Note: I haven’t been commenting much on the Seattle Seahawks so far this season. With the year ending injuries to key defensive stars Cliff Avril, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor, plus the problems with the offensive line and the running game, I have been, more or less, in “wait and see” mode as regards this […]Read the Rest →
With nearly a quarter of the 2014 Major League season already played there is a big enough sample size now to take a look at our Seattle Mariners and make some evaluations. The first thing to note is that with a 19-17 won-lost record the team is over .500 and is currently in 2nd place, ahead of both the Angels and the Rangers, and trailing Oakland by only 2.5 games in the American League West Division. I’d have to look it up to know when, but it’s been a while since the M’s were above .500 this far into a season. Add to this that they have won 12 of their last 16 games and recently completed a 7-2 road trip (to New York, Houston and Oakland, during which they logged more travel miles than most teams have for the season thus far) by winning 3 of 4 from the A’s and you can see that for M’s fans there is reason for optimism.
Making this recent stretch of success even more impressive is that it has come on the heels of an eight game losing streak during which the team was about as bad as a big league team can be. I have to say that, as bad as the M’s were during those eight games, new Seattle manager Lloyd McLendon really showed his mettle with how he handled it. He never seemed panicked and never seemed to lose faith in his team. While many of us fans, me included, were ready to throw in the towel for the season, McLendon weathered the storm and righted the ship. He brought is team out of it and now here they are with a winning record and in 2nd place. That is impressive. Seattle may have finally found a worthy manager replacement for Lou Pinella. We’ll see.
Fueling this success so far this season hasn’t been the offense. The Mariners to this point in 2014 have scored fewer runs (145) than all but two American league teams. As a team they have the 2nd worst batting average (.228) and the 2nd worst on base percentage (.293) in the league. None of those stats bode well for long term success and if the M’s are to make a run this season they simply must improve. A number of M’s hitters have gotten off to slow starts, including third baseman Kyle Seager and short stop Brad Miller, who both were expected to do much better. Seager has recently turned it around with a surge that coincides with the M’s recent winning ways. During that time, about a 12 game stretch, the M’s won 9 games, he jumped his average about 60 points (.180 to.240), hit 5 home runs and was the American League Co-Offensive Player of the Week for the week that ended April 27th. Miller, however, has continued to struggle with his batting average and on base percentage plummeting to new lows (as of last night a .164 average and a .224 on base percentage). To make matters worse he has also struggled in the field, committing a number of costly errors. Miller needs to turn things around rapidly, like within the next couple of games. If he doesn’t, expect him to be sent to AAA Tacoma and expect as well the return of Nick Franklin to replace him. Franklin is currently tearing it up for the Rainiers with a .378 batting average, 7 home runs, a stellar .459 on base percentage and an unbelievable 1.136 OPS (on base plus slugging percentage). 
Other M’s players, such as center fielder and leadoff hitter Abraham Almonte, have also struggled. His .198 batting average and .248 on base percentage are simply unacceptable for a leadoff man and McLendon has already shipped him to Tacoma and brought up speedster James Jones to replace him. He also inserted the more experienced Michael Saunders as leadoff hitter, a move which paid immediate dividends; but Saunders injured his knee last night in the first inning, so it looks like we may see the rookie Jones leading off sooner rather than later. That will be interesting to watch because, from what I have seen of Jones, he has some promise.
Neither has it been the M’s defense, which in terms of fielding percentage currently resides about the middle of the pack in the American League, that has been causing the team’s surge. By process of elimination that leaves the Mariners pitching as the likely source of their recent affluence and, indeed, when you look at the stats this seems to be the case. Thirty-six games into the season Seattle has the 3rd best team ERA (3.48) in the American League, trailing only the Oakland A’s and the Detroit Tigers. When you stop to consider that the M’s started the season with two projected starting pitchers on the disabled list (Hisahi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker) and that another starter, James Paxton, strained a lat muscle in his third start and hasn’t pitched since, it’s nothing short of a miracle the Mariners starting pitching has been so good. Because of missing Iwakuma and Walker the M’s have had to rely on the 35 year old veteran Chris Young (3-0, 2.63 ERA), and the rookie refugee from Cuba Roenis Elias (3-2, 3.27 ERA). By any reasonable standard both pitchers have exceeded expectations. Because of their incredible stories, in the near future I plan to do a blog on each of these guys.
Now that Iwakuma has returned to the rotation and does not appear to have missed a beat, having won his first two starts, Seattle’s starting pitching, as good as it has been, is now getting stronger—and I haven’t even mentioned Felix Hernandez, who commenced the season looking better than ever with a 3-0 start, but who has faltered a bit since. In light of all these injuries to the Mariners pitchers, the most impressive thing about Felix to me, is that he takes the ball every fifth day, makes his start and gives you all that he has, which every year amounts to 200 plus innings and 200 plus strike outs. The guy appears to be indestructible.
As far as Seattle’s bullpen is concerned they have been holding their own, but particularly good in their late inning roles have been Danny Farquhar (1.45 ERA), Tom Wilhelmsen (2.45 ERA), the rookie Dominic Leone (1.93 ERA) and closer Fernando Rodney (2.30 ERA, 11 saves). When he comes in for the 9th inning Rodney usually, whether by walks or hits, gives up base runners but , so far at least, rarely the lead. He has saved 11 of 12 opportunities and is tied for the league lead in that category.
So far in this 2014 M’s season I think we have yet to see the real Robinson Cano in terms of the full effect he will have on the team’s offense. To this point, though he leads the team in batting average, hits and on base percentage, he has not shown a lot of power with only one home run. Inevitably he will live up to the back of his baseball card and you will see his power and run production increase, which will only help the team as the summer progresses. He also plays the smoothest and most graceful second base the Mariners have ever had. If first baseman Justin Smoak can keep producing as he has been (5 HRs and a team leading 24 RBIs), Seager can continue his improvement and players like catcher Mike Zunino and Dustin Ackley can at least be consistent, we should see Seattle’s offense improve.
With those factors in place and McLendon running the show, along with the good pitching the M’s have likely to get better when Walker and Paxton are healthy in a month or so, we could be in for an interesting summer in Seattle.
By Mark Arnold
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 “On Base Plus Slugging Percentage” (OPS) is one of the statistics used to measure offensive effectiveness in baseball. It is calculated by taking a player’s On Base Percentage (the number of time a player reaches base by any means divided by his total plate appearances) and adding it to his Slugging Percentage, which is calculated by dividing the total bases a players accumulates in his ‘at bats’ ( a single being 1 base, a double 2 bases, and so on) into his total “at bats”. An OPS over 1.000 is exceptionally high.
 The “Lat” is the Latissimus Dorsi muscle, a broad muscle located in the back and below the shoulder