Tag Archives: American League West

Seattle Mariners – Frustrating But Talented

Can This Be The Season?

Mariners won last night on a 3-run homer by designated hitter Adam Lind.  Lind’s walk-off homer is the fourth time the Mariner’s have done that, leading the majors in that category.

The win takes some of the sting out of the horrific month of June which put’s them at 7-14 for the month and for the first time since April 23rd, at .500 for the season.

Granted, we all know that teams will go thru some rough patches and this version of the Mariners does at least, for the most part, stay in games unlike last year, where if the opposing team got any kind of lead, they folded up like a cheap tent.

Injuries haven’t helped matters much with starters Felix Hernandez, Taijuan Walker and Wade Miley out for extensive periods of time.  And the fact that the rest of the staff, sans Hisashi Iwakuma, can’t get past the 5th inning, which depletes the bullpen and in turn, have been battered around by opposing teams.

There are signs of hope though.  James Paxton seems to have found a groove and with his new arm slot location, has been hitting in the 95-98 mph on his fastball, occasionally hitting 100 mph to go along with a good curveball and slider.

Last night’s starting pitcher, Wade LeBlanc just recently traded for the infamous “player to be named later” was thrust into the starting rotation.  The left-hander channeled a favorite Mariner icon, one Jamie Moyer with a quality change-up and pin-point control, holding the Cardinals to zero runs, three hits and one walk in six innings.

The Mariners did there best to give back the game in the eight inning when the Cardinals scored three runs without the benefit of a hit.  Relief pitcher Joaquin Benoit did the most damage, walking the lead-off hitter and then promptly hitting the next one, and then walking the next two to force in a run that tied the game.

Next was the debut of Donn Roach but I can’t blame him for giving up the two runs.  He did what he was supposed to do and that was to induce the Cardinal’s Matt Holliday to hit the ball on the ground.  But the normally sure-handed Mariner 3rd baseman Kyle Seager misjudged the 103 mph grounder for an error and off it went into left field allowing two runs to score.

But baseball is a funny game and more often than not, it allows for players to amend any screw-ups they may have made.  Seager came back by hitting a double and Dae-Ho Lee, the Mariners most pleasant surprise this season, worked Cardinal closer Trevor Rosenthal for a walk, setting up Adam Lind’s heroics in the ninth.

Here are some things we can take away about the Mariners during this nasty stretch:

  • Seventh best hitting team in the American League with a .259 team batting average.
  • Second in the American League in runs scored with 359.
  • Second in the American League in home runs with 110.
  • Second in the American League in RBI with 347.
  • Fourth in the American League with a .326 OPB percentage
  • Fourth in the American League with a .437 slugging percentage
  • Second in the American League pitching staff with 630 strikeouts of opposing batters
  • Second in American League with an ERA of 3.78 runs per game

Newsflash:  Despite recent play, this team is pretty good.

Right now the Mariners are banged up but still in contention for a Wild Card spot.  And with some luck (and hopefully the Texas Rangers go into a spin late), they might even have a shot at winning the American League West title.

What I hope happens when Felix Hernandez, Taijuan Walker and Wade Miley return from their injuries is that they keep James Paxton in the rotation and send Nathan Karns down to the minors to figure out how to get past five innings.

So down the stretch, the Mariners starting rotation would be:

  • Hernandez
  • Iwakuma
  • Paxton
  • Walker
  • Miley

Keep Wade LeBlanc for long relief and spot starts.

With the exception of Walker (and I think that it’s a short term issue), all of the starters have the ability to go at least seven innings each time they pitch.  Now you have an effective bullpen that only needs to work 3 innings a game instead of 5 or sometimes 6.  That can only make the bullpen that much more effective.

Mariners are going to be OK….they have too much talent to be out of it right now.

What’s Different About the 2016 Seattle Mariners? Team Chemistry!

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The Seattle Mariners are in first place. Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

While it may be only the end of May, at this time last year the Mariners were 24-26 in the midst of a 7-game losing streak and by all indications, really weren’t going to get any better as the season went on.

Now, with a sparkling 27-18 record that includes an 18-7 road record, the best in the majors, they sit atop of the American League West division with a 1-1/2 game lead on the Texas Rangers.

What’s different? Statistically, not much from last year. Mariners have scored 21 more times than 2015, have 30 more RBI’s, increased walks by 13 and reduced strike outs by 62. Not significant increases that indicate a magic bullet for the improvement over last year.

Pitching stats show a better picture: Lowered ERA from 3.78 to 3.20, allowed 80 less hits and 54 less runs scored and decreased the walks by 31. Pitching staff has done a real nice job keeping opposing runners off base.

Perhaps it is the change in philosophy from the Jack Zduriencik/Lloyd McClendon days. The 2015 Mariners had high expectations picked by some to be in the World Series. But after 7 disappointing seasons, the plug had to be pulled.

No sense in going over what happened last year…we all know that last year’s team was uninspired to put it mildly. It seemed to me that players didn’t care about winning…and part of that could be the decisions to play players out of position such as Brad Miller and Dustin Ackley. It can be important to one’s morale to play a position they want to play and feel they are good at instead of being placed anywhere on the diamond.

I also would have to blame a lot on Jack Zdurencik’s ability to evaluate players:

  • Justin Smoak, in the five years he played for Seattle, had a batting average of .226, struck out about 87 times a year and while he showed flashes of power, more often than not, he ground into double plays.
  • His replacement, Logan Morrison, wasn’t much better. He did have a solid season in 2014 hitting .262 with 11 home runs but only drove in 38 runs in 336 at bats. His performance dropped considerably in 2015, hitting a paltry .225, showing more power with 17 home runs and driving in 54. But he was more known for assisting Fernando Rodney in shooting make-believe arrows.
  • Ackley, a highly touted player coming out of college, hit decent in his 4 years with a .250 batting average. But he never looked comfortable at the plate and getting moved around defensively probably messed with his head.
  • Mike Zunino is perhaps Zdurencik’s biggest mistake. Evaluated him correctly but promoted him way too fast. Drafted in 2012, he zoomed thru A to AAA ball and with a mere 159 minor league games under his belt (59 at AAA level), he became the Mariners starting catcher in 2013. 2015 was epically bad as Zunino hit .174 and struck out 132 times in 350 at bats. He was able to hit 11 home runs and played great defense at catcher. But he was a black hole in the line-up.

So what is different between this year and last year? For one thing, after the initial 3-6 start, they have gotten off to a way better start over the first 46 games. First place in the American League West with a game and a half lead over the Rangers. Last year? At the end of May, they were 24-26, in fourth place, 6 and half games behind the Houston Astros.

I also am a big believer in how Jerry Dipoto and his team with the type of players they brought in, those with good on base percentage and getting more balls in play. Dipoto and first-year manager Scott Servais also did a real smart thing when spring training opened.

Early in camp, each day, Servais had players stand up during the morning meetings to discuss their backgrounds. It could go from explaining how they got into the big leagues, who they admire the most and what difficulties they overcame to get where they are. They also spoke about any hobbies they might have. That’s important in a team environment. It shows that players may have common interests and could form bonds outside of baseball which in turn, can form a high level of trust on the field.

Some examples of how this brought the team together:

  • Reliever Tony Zych said he liked to play pool. Servais asked if he was any good and Zych said yes. Servais tasked Zych to get a pool table in the clubhouse the next day. Second baseman Robison Cano ponied up to cover the cost. The next day, Servais and Zych played. Servais played the first shot, sank it and then missed his next. Zych never gave his manager another shot as he ran the table, much to the delight of the team.
  • Comedian Domingo Ayala delivered one liners and jokes for a day.
  • Pitcher Danny Hultzen was assigned to deliver a world daily report which later expanded to Nori Aoki doing reports on Japan and Nelson Cruz on the Dominican Republic.
  • When Cano’s team beat Cruz’s team in a situational hitting contest, Cruz had to buy steak and shrimp for the entire Mariner complex

Team chemistry, one of the most overlooked aspects of the game, was being developed. And it starts with Servais whose style is to keep things positive. He likes to keep it loose but when it’s time to work, you have to be ready. Servais made it a point to spend almost 95% of spring training on team-building with the goal to develop equity and trust with players.

I’d say he’s achieved his goal.

We all know the crux of this team is Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager. None have disappointed this year and Cano, now healthy, is putting together a monster year. But other players, like Leonys Martin. He is hitting .262 with 9 home runs, which is already a career high. Prior to coming to the Mariners, he had 20 career home runs…he keeps hitting like this and he’ll have 20 by mid-July!

How about Seth Smith, playing solid defense out in right field and an OPB of .376 which is great for the number 2 guy in the line-up.

And Chris Iannetta, brought in until Mike Zunino can claim his spot back, with some timely hits including one walk-off home run.

And how about those situational players such as Dae-Ho Lee, whose walk off home run against the Rangers in April snapped a 6-game losing streak. Or Franklin Gutierrez who smacked a monster home run against the Reds last week.

These players have brought an attitude that we haven’t seen since 2001 Mariners when they won 116 games.

And the pitching! Did anyone expect Wade Miley to be 5-2 and be such an innings eater? Or that Nathan Karns would beat out James Paxton for the number 5 slot and be 4-1 with a 3.53 ERA?

How about a bullpen that was much maligned last year, coming in with a 2.62 ERA with 13 saves and 32 holds and an average of 9.87 strikeouts per nine innings.

This team is getting runs, making opposing pitchers work, playing good defense and not letting the other teams score.

We know that the major league season is 162 games…we also know that at some point during the season, the Mariners are going to go thru a tough patch. But I think with the make-up of this team and the chemistry it has, that tough patch will be a short one.

This team has a chance to be in the playoffs…and if they get there, I’d put some money on them getting to the World Series and winning it.

Seattle Mariners – What’s Going On With You Guys?

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I’m not entirely sure what’s going on with these guys…But I strongly believe that they need to be scared.

Anyone remember the classic scene from Bull Durham where the manager is lamenting to Crash that he’s tried everything he can think of to motivate the players?  Crash’s simple resolution is to “scare em.”

Next scene, the manager throws some bats into the showers and starts screaming what a bunch of “lollygaggers” the players are.

Here is a clip for those who want a good laugh:  Bull Durham – Lollygagger Scene

Now I don’t expect to have Lloyd McClendon to throw this kind of fit…but something has got to be done to get this team motivated.

I doubt benching Robinson Cano or Kyle Seager is going to do any good.  But I would like to see how Cano would react to say dropping to number nine in the line-up.  After all, he’s hitting like he belongs in the nine hole right now.

Some good things I have seen over this lousy home stand is the starting pitching has been outstanding.  Over the past 7 days, opposing teams have batted .255 against the pitching of J.A Happ, Taijuan Walker, Roenias Elias and Felix Hernandez.  Take out Hernandez’s .333 and hitters are going at a .229 pace.  I do believe that any major league team would take that in a heartbeat.

However, the relief pitching, the strength of last year, has just been abysmal.  Over the same seven game stretch, opposing teams have hit .272 with an on base percentage of .395.  Along with 11 walks and 10 extra base hits, that’s not what you expect from last year’s best bullpen in the majors.

I don’t have any faith in Fernando Rodney…in fact, I wasn’t to happy when the Mariners acquired him.  He has some good stuff but is unreliable.  I think we have all had enough of the “Rodney Experience” for a while.

McClendon should give Carson Smith a shot at closing.  He has an ERA of 1.13, has struck out 25 and walked only 5.  In comparison, Rodney’s ERA is 6.94, has struck out 20 with 12 base on balls.  McClendon has been reluctant to give the ball to Smith but just how many times does he give Rodney a chance?  I admire loyalty to a player but what about loyalty to the team and more important, to the fans?

We were hopeful at the end of last year when the Mariners missed getting into the playoffs by 1 game.  We were lifted even higher when Jack Z. went out and got Nelson Cruz to give some much some much needed power to the line-up.

No one expected to see Cano hitting only .243 right now.  And that’s only the tip of the iceberg.  He’s has several notable base running gaffe’s, the last one against the Yankees, getting picked off at first after driving in a run.

I don’t see a need to panic just yet…but I do see a need to shake things up a bit.  As a team, they are hitting just .212 for the season with runners in scoring position.  They have struck out 212 times.  And it only gets worse with 2 out with runners in scoring position.  .212 along with 60 strike outs.

And it was typical in the game against Tampa Bay last night.  Down 1-0 in the ninth inning, Austin Jackson hits a leadoff triple….and stays there while Brad Miller struck out, Mike Zunino hits a shallow foul ball to right and Dustin Ackley flew out to left to end the game.

Pitiful…With Jackson on third and no outs, the Mariners could not get him in, not even with a productive count.

So what can be done?  With the exception of Cruz, change the line-up.  Drop Cano down in the line-up, get Seager in the 3 slot, let Miller lead off and put Ackley on the bench.

It may not produce wins but it could get these guys going.

Seattle Mariner Fans – Relax Will Ya? It’s Just The First Week!

No Need To Panic Yet...Mariners are just getting warmed up!
No need to panic yet…Mariners are just getting warmed up!

After Felix Hernandez’s opening day gem, the Seattle Mariners went on to lose three straight games.

Reading articles and posts of fans who respond to them, as well as listening fans who call in or test to sports radio shows, I get the sense that this city is having a panic attack.

I suppose some of that can be attributed to all the hype that has been heaped upon the Mariners with many folks predicting they will go to the World Series.  Even I made the bold prediction they will win 93 games.  I still stand by the prediction and I am not going to change it after only seeing them play five games.

This is baseball.  This game has highs and lows that are going to occur during the course of a 162 game season.  Granted, it would have been nice to have the Detroit Tigers or Kansas City Royals 5-0 start.  But last time I checked, no major league baseball team has gone undefeated.

This Seattle Mariner team is going to be in the thick of it.  And let’s all remember they need to do well enough to make the playoffs, where every team, regardless of what they did during the regular season, start the playoffs with an 0-0 record.

Mariners are stacked with a good, solid pitching rotation, anchored by Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez and two veteran pitchers in J.A. Happ and Hisashi Iwakuma.  Also in the mix are two young rising starts in Taijuan Walker and James Paxton.

The bullpen, one of the best in baseball last year, is back with essentially the same staff of Danny Farquhar, Charlie Furbush, Yoervis Medina and closer Fernando Rodney.  New additions Carson Smith and Tyler Olsen will only make them stronger.

The line-up is stronger despite what folks think of the first five games.  Gone is Michael Saunders, Justin Smoak, Nick Franklin and Kendrys Morales all who were supposed to bring the pop the Mariners have been so desperately seeking.

Mariner front office made the commitment last year to Robinson Cano and that signing told Mariner fans they wanted to build a winner.  GM Jack Zduriencik, who had been under fire, had to breathe a lot easier when the team won 87 games last year.

This year, they deepened their commitment and started to build around Cano.  The signed budding superstar third baseman Kyle Seager to a long-term contract and brought it last year’s home run leader Nelson Cruz from the Baltimore Oriels.

The rest of the team is pretty solid with Dustin Ackley and Logan Morrison.  They are still a little weak in right field with the platoon of Justin Ruggiano and Seth Smith.  And I am still not convinced that Austin Jackson is the true lead-off hitter they need.  He’s more of a number two guy but as of right now, Mariners don’t have a solid lead-off guy they can depend on so Jackson is it.

The point of all this?  This town cannot expect the same type of energy each and every game as they do for Seahawk games.  If they do, then the Mariners will be done before June.

What we can do is keep supporting them and understand that it’s a long season and anything can happen.  And I suspect there is some magic in this team that will surprise all of us.

Keep the faith and relax…The Mariners are going to be just fine.