Shhh, People Are Sleeping On The Seattle Mariners
I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the Seattle Mariners. As a person who makes yearly preseason prognostications, there is always that team that regularly makes you look foolish. That team that no matter how many times you pick them, or pick against them, you never can win. The M’s are the epitome of that for myself, as well as many others. A pillar of inconsistency, Seattle has continually found new ways to torpedo themselves out of contention. Through the early part of this season though, the Mariners finally have shown that they have possibly struck a winning balance. Whether or not they can keep it up until October remains to be seen, but as of now we in the baseball masses are sleeping on our perennial “sleeper” team.
The Mariners revival has started with their offense. Scoring runs has been an issue for past editions of the Mariners as spacious Safeco Field has become a place where home runs become fly outs and doubles go to die. However, Seattle is currently the second leading run scorers in the American League behind the demolition squad Red Sox with 220 runs.
Robinson Cano is finally living up to his hefty price tag in his third season with the club. He leads the circuit with 14 home runs, two-thirds of the way to his Seattle high of 21 set last year and matching his full season production from 2014. His 43 RBI and 111 total bases lead all of the Major Leagues. But unlike in past seasons, this is no longer a multi-run home run or bust offense.
The Mariners finally have some table setters in front of Cano, Nelson Cruz (.293, 10 HR, 32 RBI, .393 OBP), and Kyle Seager (.256, 8 HR, 27 RBI, 12 2B), as well as some adept bat swingers behind them. Before his injury, Ketel Marte had settled in nicely to the leadoff role. His patience, a growing staple for Mariners’ hitters, leaves a lot to be desired still (7 BB to 31 K). His ability to create chaos on the basepaths, even with just five stolen bases, makes the club very happy that his DL stint will be just the requisite 15 days.
In Marte’s brief absence, two hole hitter Leonys Martin has filled in nobly in the leadoff spot. The offseason acquisition from their Texas rivals has rejuvenated his bat in the most unlikely of surroundings. He’s also been a rock in center field, making the demotion of Gold Glover Franklin Gutierrez sting less. When Marte returns from the DL, Martin will return the bottom of the lineup, where he has served as a “second leadoff man” in the nine hole.
While the hitting coming around is nice, the Mariners are still driven by their pitching. This season it is hard to find a weak link among the bunch, either in the rotation or in the pen. King Felix still sits firmly atop an impressive starting five that has yet to miss a start. Hernandez has a 2.21 ERA, second best in the American League, despite being beleaguered by increasing walks and diminishing strikeouts. People are making contact with the King, but just not anything of substance (.235 BABIP).
Behind him is a solid combination of pitchers, each with their own take on the craft. Taijuan Walker is exceeding expectations at the moment, even if he has been a hard luck loser on several occasions. He has curtailed his walks substantially (9 BB in 50 IP) and boasts a rotation best 1.06 WHIP.
Nate Karns has made the Danny Farquhar trade with Tampa Bay very lopsided. He’s 4-1 with a strikeout per inning this season for the Mariners. He went toe to toe with last season’s AL Cy Young, Dallas Keuchel, and twirled seven shutout innings.
Wade Miley and Hisashi Iwakuma are the two men with ERAs over 4.00 for the club, but each has played their part splendidly. In fact, Miley leads the team with 5 wins and Iwakuma has been the de facto #1 starter since the third time through the rotation.
The bullpen has been a huge surprise. After being the fourth worst unit in the AL in 2015, they are the fourth best thus far in 2016. Steve Cishek was abysmal between Miami and St. Louis last season, yet the Mariners still gave the sidewinding sinkerballer $10 million over 2 years to be their closer. He hasn’t disappointed converting 12 of his 15 save opportunities and sporting a WHIP under 1.00. The band of merry men around him have been even better.
Outside of Cishek, the Mariners bullpen has just one loss to their name all season. That came from Nick Vincent, arguably their best reliever since coming over from San Diego at the end of March. Joaquin Benoit, Vidal Nuno, Tony Zych, Joel Peralta, and Vincent all punch out more than a man per inning. Mike Montgomery, the “lefty specialist” who can go multiple innings, has given up runs in just two of his 17 appearances, and has two wins to his credit. The latest came with a 3 1/3 inning shutout showing in a comeback win against the A’s.
But as I said before, it is early and the Mariners have a history of letting their supporters down, both fans and media alike. But unlike their predecessors, manager Scott Servais is not letting his team repeat whatever mistakes they make this year. The former catcher has managed his roster, both pitching and hitting, to perfection and his seamless transition with Marte injury shows that the eventual maladies that come with a 162 game season won’t deter his men. We won’t be able to sleep on the Mariners much longer. And if the rest of the AL West doesn’t wake up soon, they’ll be left in dreamland come playoff time.
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