Cautiously Optimistic?

Last year the Mariners started 2-0.  Then they lost 7 games in a row.  In 2010, the Mariners won their first game and then lost 6 of their next 7.  In 2008, Seattle won their first game and then lost 5 of their next 6.  I’m going to stop there.  The point is the Mariners have started every season since 2007 by jumping out to grab at least a share of the division lead and then promptly losing it.

Now, keep that in mind while you read the rest of this post so I don’t look like a fool once the Mariners go get swept by Texas.

The Seattle Mariners have scored 15 runs in the last 2 games.  Yes, they won and that’s the most important thing but take a second to reflect on all of the times in the last 2 0r 3 years that this team has been on the verge of unwatchable because of the inept offense and that will make you appreciate these last 2 games even more.  Everyone got a hit.  Chone Figgins had 6 hits, and 2 of them were for extra bases.  Michael Saunders hit a double and a home run.  The bottom of the order was good.  The top of the order was great.  The middle was decent but it didn’t have to be anymore than that.  This won’t continue but these 2 games showed us what the offense could be.  Singles galore with a few extra base hits thrown in.  If Montero and Smoak show off some of their upside this offense could be (dare I say it) good.  Not great, or anywhere close to it, but good.

I’m going to go player-by-player in the lineup, tell you what I see and then jump to the bullet points.

Chone Figgins looked like a completely different hitter.  He hasn’t swung with that much authority since his days with the Angels.  Yes, the bunts were nice and well done but that’s not what had me excited.  At times in the last 2 years I honestly couldn’t picture a hard hit ball coming off of Figgins bat.  Chone hit 5 line drives in 2 games.  Not soft liners either.  He tucks his shoulder in, loads up and swings hard at hittable pitches.  He was measly swinging through pitches right down the middle last year but the last 2 days there was no sign of that guy.  I’m not saying this is a turning point or even close to it.  It could just be apparition in the Figgins awful span as a Mariner.  His last gasp of trying not to get cut.  But, confidence is an impossible thing to gauge and this psychological move to lead-off (because surely you wouldn’t  move him there for any other reason) may actually work.

I could write a whole post on Dustin Ackley’s swing alone.  It’s a thing of beauty and sooner or later, all left-handed hitters will begin to take his approach to hitting.  Instead, I’ll just leave it at this.  Dustin Ackley is really good, and will probably be great before too long.

Ichiro is Ichiro.  I was never too worried about him and I’m still not overly concerned.  His line drive rate last year was a bit alarming and it seemed like he hardly ever hit the ball hard.  But, for all the people who say that he’s selfish, Ichiro is one of the hardest workers in the majors and he’s not going to be held down like he was last year.  It doesn’t matter what Jon Heyman, talk radio, and fans who don’t pay attention to actual baseball say, Ichiro is good and has been so valuable to this franchise.  I don’t see that changing this year.

Justin Smoak is having a little trouble with the inside fastball.  I’m fine with this.  I know it sounds weird to say that it’s okay that the teams cleanup hitter is getting jammed by 90 mph fastballs because he’s behind them but stay with me.  Smoak would get in trouble last year because he would pull off of pitches and be way out ahead.  He wouldn’t make a commitment to hitting to left field and wouldn’t stay behind the ball.  We all learn in little league that you need to hit the ball where it’s pitched and that’s what Justin Smoak is doing, or trying to do now.  He’ll get around on the inside fastball soon, but I’m happy to see him hitting line drives to the left side of the field (which he’s done if you go back and look).

Jesus Montero is hitting the ball fairly hard but it seems like he may be out in front of the ball a little bit.  I think he grounded out to the shortstop 4 times in the last 2 games which happens while trying to pull an outside pitch.  Could he be a little anxious?  I think it’s likely.  His power is there, you can see it, but he just needs a few games to calm down and remember he’s going to be the next Edgar because he drives the ball to right center.

Kyle Seager is good too.  He’s like Dustin Ackley in that he’s drilling line drives everywhere.  He may not have the power Ackley has but he’s going to hit the ball and hit line drives.

Miguel Olivo is still Miguel Olivo but I’m okay with that.  He’s valuable in his own right  just not as valuable as some catchers.  I like the guy as frustrating as he can be at times.

Michael Saunders is… Wait, that was Michael Saunders?  He can’t hit home runs off of lefties.  Tonight Saunders worked the count against good ol’ Jerry Blevins and then drilled a home run deep to right field.  His swing is a little shorter and a little more compact but the key really is that he’s more aggressive when he’s in the right count.  His double to center last night was a beauty and just another example of him taking advantage of a hittable pitch.  Him being aggressive with hittable pitches is the biggest change I saw but I’m no scout.

Brendan Ryan had to use the uncomfortable hotel pillow last night and hurt his neck but before that he was tucking his front shoulder in and drilling the ball to left field.  He was also swinging with authority and just looked good.  If he can hit .280 or close to it and play 120-135 games he’s going to be a huge asset.

Munenori Kawasaki is kind of cool.  Jeff Sullivan said he could be a bad version of Ichiro which is just fine.  That’s valuable for a middle infielder.  Plus, did you see how slick he is with the glove?  He looks good and I think the M’s will try to find him more at-bats as the season goes on.A few bullet holes after the jump. 

  • Mike Carp and Franklin Gutierrez appear to be a few weeks away from returning (no one really knows but I think it’ll be about that) but I already find myself trying to figure out who’s going to be sent down.   Alex Liddi is the obvious candidate but what if he delivers in the game or two he gets to play.  Even if one of the Figgins/Saunders/Seager combo falls off we still don’t have enough spots to go around once Carp and Guti come back.  This is an amazing problem to have and it’s one that the M’s haven’t had in I don’t know how long.  If things go relatively well for the hitters once Carp and Franklin come back, we could be seeing a lot more of Montero at catcher and Olivo getting more days off.  That leaves Carp at DH and 3 spots for 4 players.  This is a prime example of me feeling way too confident over 2 games because on Thursday I was ready for Figgins to be cut.  Poor Casper Wells is going to get sent down without me even mentioning his name here.
  • This team has a ton of upside.  That’s one of the fun things with a young team.  We know what we’re going to get from Olivo.  We know what Ryan will probably do if he stays healthy.  The rest of these guys though are hard to figure out.  The rotation is the one spot without a ton of upside and that’s only for now because we have 3 of the best pitching prospects in baseball hanging out in Tennessee which brings me to this….
  • From our friends over at SSI:

“The 7th year of club control is understandable.  It just ticks me off to pull the magazine out of my rifle before I wade through the water after the alien.”

The M’s just won 3 of 4 against the Oakland Yoenis Cespedes’.  They aren’t that great (well, he seems to be) but they faced a few tough starting pitchers and won!  They have a 1 game lead in the West but now they go face the dreaded Texas Rangers and not many of the pitching matchups are in their favor.  The Mariners 2-5 starters are fine, but aren’t going to knock the boots off anyone.  Would you rather have one of the big 3 prospects or even Erasmo Ramierez starting one of these games against Texas.  I’m not saying that the Mariners aren’t capable of winning any games in the next series because their rotation isn’t good enough.  I’m just wondering if one of the young hot shots would be better and if they could keep us in the race longer.  It might not be worth it but it sure makes you think.

  • Speaking of the hot shots, I’m planning on writing a post breaking down the M’s minor league system tomorrow.  If you can’t wait that long, just know that the team to follow is the AA team in Tennessee, the Jackson Generals.
  • In order to keep up in the race, I think Seattle could really use a split against the Rangers and then take care of business in the opening homestand (which isn’t too much to ask when you look at the opponents).  The split could be tricky but if they come out of their with it, it’ll be a great start to the season.

Go M’s, things are looking up!

Andrew

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