The Mariners are (Maybe) Not Bad

Riding a surprising three game winning streak, the Mariners are back over .500 at 29-28.  It seems like they’ve hovered within a game or two of .500 for most of the season, so it seems pretty fair to consider them an extremely average team right now. Luckily for them, most of the league is in the same boat. Before today’s win, they were only a game and a half out of a wild card. Unfortunately, that only puts them tied for 5th in the wild card standings. Still, the potential for playoff baseball is there should the M’s improve over the summer.

It’s hard to get a handle on this team. The rotation has sustained a ridiculous amount of injuries, but it’s performed surprisingly well, at least outside of the Brandon Maurer/Erasmo Ramirez slot. The bullpen was shaky early before turning into a pretty solid unit. The defense is better than last year, especially in the outfield, although it suffers from lapses occasionally.

As usual, it’s the offense that most often holds the team back. There always seem to be at least three regulars slumping badly, while it’s rare for the team to have more than one guy on a hot streak at a time. The right-handed hitting outfielders have mostly failed miserably. Corey Hart never got going and then got injured. Robinson Cano is on base all the time, but he has yet to bring his usual burst of doubles and homers. In short, the offense is too inconsistent. It will bust out with ten runs, like in New York today, and then struggle to get ten more total in the next two series.

I honestly have no clue how the season will go from here. Typically, it gets easier to hit in Seattle as the weather gets warmer, but who knows. If Taijuan Walker and/or James Paxton can return, it could be a huge boost. But of course, they might also have no real impact this year. This season has a wide range of possible outcomes, and each of them seem as likely as the next. A few more thoughts on the season  and what’s to come after the jump.

  • The offseason’s biggest concern, the outfield, has been surprisingly decent. James Jones has been a revelation, especially after the complete failure of Abraham Almonte. Jones’ hitting has already slowed a lot, and it’s possible he won’t last a second month through the league, but if he can keep getting on base a third of the time and playing a solid center field, he’s a great solution for the time being. Ackley is average or slightly less, which is disappointing but workable. Michael Saunders looks like he could be the one who becomes a minor star. When getting regular playing time, he’s been one of the team’s best bats, a streak that now runs back into the second half of 2013. Mariner fandom tells us it won’t last, but signs are good that this time it might.
  • The most gaping hole on the roster might be a right-handed bat that can play outfield and some first base. Corey Hart was supposed to be that, and he eventually might be, but it’s going to be a while before he’s back playing, much less back to hitting. Even with Hart, the roster needs someone who can fill the Romero/Gillespie role, but actually hit. That player is not likely in the system, at least for this year. Someone like Jabari Blash could get a shot but likely isn’t ready. There are other possible options in Tacoma, but I’m not excited about any of them. A trade seems the only likely way to fill the spot.
  • Shortstop has obviously been a complete black hole. Hopes for Brad Miller were probably too high to start the season, but his massive failure is still a surprise. He seems to be progressing lately, reining in his strike zone and delivering a homer against Detroit and a big RBI single today. There’s a long way to go, though, and his defensive lapses aren’t helping things. Nick Franklin has somehow been worse than Miller, and negative whispers about his attitude and approach make me wonder if he can make the needed adjustments anytime soon. If both continue to struggle, don’t be surprised to see Chris Taylor up from Tacoma once he returns from a broken finger. I’m not sure he’s ready, but he can’t be a lot worse than what they’ve had so far and is supposedly steadier with the glove.
  • The bullpen still makes me worried, but they’ve been awfully good of late. It would be nice to have a couple of big arms percolating in Tacoma for reinforcements in the second half. Unfortunately, injuries and ineffectiveness have slowed Stephen Pryor and Carson Smith, who were next in line. Having someone come out of nowhere, like Farquhar last season, could be a tremendous boost in the second half.
  • Speaking of the bullpen, Rodney’s entrance music might be my favorite part of this season. I’m not even joking about this. I have no idea how to describe it, so if you haven’t experienced it yet, you should just go to every game until you do. I want him to be our closer forever just because of that goofy song and all the random graphics they use.
  • The rotation has been good, but it’s on pretty thin ice. The fifth spot has already been extremely shaky, and I wouldn’t be surprised by Young or Elias going through a long stretch of ineffectiveness. Paxton and Walker would both be huge additions, but there’s no guarantee they’ll be back to stay, or at all. There’s not a lot of help on the horizon either. Depending on who comes back when, a trade for a veteran at the deadline might be a good move.
  • As for actual help on the horizon, I’m not sure there is much at any position. I mentioned Taylor and Blash, each of whom is playing well but could really use a full season in AAA. Logan Morrison will be back shortly, if you want to count him. It’s possible the team could jump someone quickly from AA, but there’s no one there who’s a mega-prospect. The next good group of prospects is mostly in High-A ball this year Maybe the best chance of help comes from a couple of disgraced 1B/DH’s: Jesus Montero and Ji-Man Choi. Choi returns from his steroid suspension soon and was hitting like crazy before that. He hits everywhere, to the point where I feel fairly confident he could at least duplicate Smoak’s production, if not pass it. He’ll need some time to get back into form, though. Montero is the most dismissed player in the organization, but he’s still young, is hitting well and drawing more walks, and most importantly, hits right-handed. I’m hoping to see him sometime this summer, especially if Hart’s return is delayed at all.
  • One last thing: Mike Zunino is looking like the real deal. Barely a year out of college, he’s delivering good to great defense and hitting for a lot of power. He’s slowly improving his plate discipline, the main strike against him early. Most importantly, he displays a tough-mindedness missing in most of the recent Mariner prospects. He seems unafraid but not cocky, tough but smart. He’s been given as much responsibility as nearly anyone this season, and he’s delivered much more than I expected.

So that’s enough for tonight, if anyone’s still reading! This team oscillates between a lot of fun and incredibly frustrating, and it could swing to either side any time. Still, it’s been a long time since the team even entered the summer in the playoff hunt, so we’ve got that going for us. Believe big!

-Matthew

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