From me to M’s: Job One-Fix Robinson Cano

Cano

At seven games below .500, the Mariners have problems galore.  The starting rotation is a patchwork.  The bullpen isn’t completely reliable, and worst of all they can’t score runs. None of the answers to these problems are simple.  Some of them just have to be addressed in order of priority.  The one thing that would make this team vastly better is to figure out what the is wrong with the offense and fix it.

Just for fun, let’s compare slash lines from last year’s team and compare them to this year

06-06-14                                                       06-06-15

C Mike Zunino          .229/.284/.416                                               .171/.236/.351

1B  Justin Smoak      .208/.282/.361                     Logan Morrison  .246/.324/.382

2B  Robinson Cano   .333/.379/.423                                               .243/.283/.326

SS Brad Miller           .167/.243/.268                                                .228/.313/.411

3B Kyle Seager         .260/.339/.446                                                .278/.329/.468

LF Dustin Ackley        .226/.290/.331                                               .197/.241/.331

CF James Jones         ..272/.318/.359                  Austin Jackson     .270/.313/.362

RF  Michael Saunders .272/.321/.441                  Nelson Cruz          .322/.380/.617

DH  Stefen Romero      .213/.266/.367                  Seth Smith            .255/.319/.477

As you can see, it’s not like all the players on the 2015 team have fallen off a cliff and are utterly terrible. Some have.  Hard to remember back to June of last year, but Mike Zunino was a better hitter than he would end up being in September and today. Would you rather have Justin Smoak fishing for his potential, or Logan Morrison?  Brad Miller in 2015 is much superior to last year.  Michael Saunders was a good player, but about to reinjure his shoulder, suffer an infection and illness, missing most of the rest of the year. Nelson Cruz is having one of the best offensive years in the game.Smith is a vast improvement over any Mariners DH from last year.

But if you look down the list at Robbie Cano, that is the biggest offensive discrepancy. It’s not just that Cano is scuffling.  Cano was, arguably, the glue that held the 2014 team together.  They frequently scuffled to score runs, but he seemed to do so much with a timely single, gave himself up to score a run.  He was a run producer and a run scorer.  By this date last year he scored 26 runs.  this year with Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager and Logan Morrison hitting behind him, Robbie has scored only 22 runs.

Most important, Cano was a huge influence in the clubhouse. He taught new guys to play the game the right way.  He practiced with them.  He taught the young guys how to hit with the “net drill.”  It’s hard to help others when scuffling.  it’s tough to be the clubhouse leader, the example, the enforcer of rules and tradition, when not having success on the field.

Finally, Cano’s struggles affect the the success of others.  I am seeing the slow decline of Cruz’s effectiveness as pitchers are free to work around him.  Without Cano on base, Cruz is faced with swinging at borderline pitches, nothing close to his wheelhouse.  His power numbers and Kyle Seager’s are beginning to suffer.

I don’t pretend for a moment that fixing Robinson Cano is an easy task.  He’s a pro, and he’s excelled at this game for many years.  I believe he thrives on success, and if it was as simple as flipping a switch or waving a magic wand it would have been done long ago.  I do believe the team will struggle to score as long as Robinson Cano struggles.  The 2014 team was Cano’s team.  They’ll improve offensively when he does.         .

Note to Lloyd and Jack: What Happened to the Plan?

Don’t get me started on last night’s latest loss, a 1-0 snorefest.  The only run in the game came off a Fernando Rodney meatball in the top of the ninth, hit into the left field seats by Logan Forsythe.  The Mariners had scoring opportunities, but simply could not find it in themselves to get a key hit.  We’ll leave aside the train wreck that has become Fernando Rodney today to talk about the failure of an overall pre-season Mariners strategy.  Actually, not a failure, more of an abandonment of strategy.

An old military adage is that no campaign plan survives first contact with the enemy.  After that it’s all about contingency and reacting to the enemy. As general manager Jack Zdurencik was assembling this team, it’s clear he had something in mind.  The M’s had to balance out the left/right disparities in the 2014 lineup.  He went out and got the best right-handed power-hitter available in Nelson Cruz to become the DH. (Apologies to Victor Martinez, but you can’t claim to be the best of anything if you can’t stay on the field.) Seeking to bolster an offense-challenged outfield, Z ran into difficulty getting a single right handed hitter to fill in right field, so he pursued a platoon and finagled right-handed Justin Ruggiano and surrendered the valuable Brandon Maurer to the Padres for lefty Seth Smith.  He also hedged his platoon instincts and signed lefty masher Ricky Weeks to get some time with Dustin Ackley in left field as well as first base and DH.

But something has gone awry with the plan. Let’s start with right field.  The M’s have now played 55 games.  In those games the starting right fielder for 32 of them have not been the Smith/Ruggiano platoon, but Cruz.   Cruz doesn’t like DHing, prefers to play the outfield, but there are consequences for that. Ruggiano, also a right-hander, didn’t play much, at .214, didn’t hit a lot, and this week with the acquisition of Mark Trumbo, the M’s DFA’ed him.  Ruggiano started 21 games in his brief career in Seattle, most of the them filling in for the injured Austin Jackson in center field, amassing a grand total of 81 plate appearances.  Hard to say what depressed Ruggs’ performance, lack of talent or lack of consistent playing time. Smith, Ruggiano’s platoon partner in right, has gotten most of the playing time there when Cruz is DH’ing.  He’s also been a consistent performer and has gotten additional at bats in left field and as DH.  His performance is better too, with a .255/.319/.477 slash line.

But the point is that the plan to have Cruz DH and the Smith/Ruggiano platoon in right went out the window April 7th when Cruz began his regular sojourns in right field, mostly displacing Ruggiano.

On the other side of the outfield, there has been little more than offensive catastrophe.  Jack Z signed Ricky Weeks to provide some right handed power off the bench and get some platoon time with Logan Morrison and at DH. It was thought (hoped) Ackley would build on his end of season success from 2014 and return to play a solid season in 2015.  This was all complicated by the fact that Weeks was an infielder and never played a minute as a professional outfielder.

Unfortunately, we know the story to date.  Ackley is an uninspiring 127 AB’s worth of .197/.241/.331.  Weeks is a comparable .167/.270/.256.  Complicating things even more, is that Ricky really can’t play the outfield. He’s started four games there, and gone in as a defensive stand-in late in games (I wouldn’t use the word replacement.) Most of his at-bats have come as a pinch hitter or DH. Smith has seen some time in left, sitting the flailing Ackley.

Early in the season, a light switch went on or off.  The carefully constructed outfield rotation went quickly out the window. Cruz to right displaced the Smith/Ruggiano platoon.  The Ackley/Weeks platoon never really happened and became irrelevant with Ackley ineffective at the plate.  Though Cruz has been stellar, and Smith solid, the under-achievement of everybody else explains why Zdurencik made the trade for Trumbo. But the shuffle in right remains a puzzle to me.  Why did it happen almost immediately in the season before the Smith/Ruggiano platoon could be judged a failure?  Or, if Lloyd really wanted Cruz in right, why not move that platoon to left when it became evident Ackley/Weeks was a pile of poop?  And why DFA Ruggiano, when it’s clear Weeks isn’t going to get at-bats and can’t play defense?

Somebody’s got some ‘splainin’ to do.  That’s what happens when your team, predicted to be in the World Series, can’t find the win column.

24-30: Jack Z Senses Emergency, Breaks Glass

The Mariners lost 2-1 yesterday to the Tampa Bay Rays.  They were swept by the Yankees, and have gone 1-7 on the current home stand.  After clawing their way to .500 on last week’s lengthy road trip through the Eastern division, they’ve now lost six straight and find themselves mired in fourth place, nine and half games behind the division-leading Astros.

It’s June 5th, and it seems like old times again.  Remember all those predictions about how great things were gonna be this year.  Well, forget about it. Remember my fears about the lack of pitching depth? The M’s are experiencing it right now.  All the efforts made by the front office to make the offense better, it’s not working and the Mariners continue to struggle to score.  They are last in batting average, last in on-base percentage and 14th out of 15 teams in runs scored.

Wednesday night the Mariners announced a trade with the Diamondbacks.  They sent reliever Dominic Leone, catcher Wellington Castillo, AA outfielder Gabby Guerrero, and infielder Jack Reinheimer. In return they received outfielder/first baseman/designated hitter Mark Trumbo and lefty pitcher Vidal Nuno.

Is this a game changer? Um, probably not. Trumbo is the kind of righty power hitter Jack Zdurencik has always loved.  Below .300 OBP, he’ll hit some home runs and strike out a lot. He’s a younger, less injured version of Mike Morse–not much of a defender, but they needed a bat so Jack Z fixed on him. Nuno might be more important, given how short the Mariners are for starting pitching. Nuno, 27, struggled as a starter for the Yankees for three years before coming over to the Diamondbacks.  His performance improved with the Snakes, but he has only had three games with them this year.  He may be someone who can eat some innings for the Mariners, but he will start in the bullpen in long relief.

How important is this deal?  Trumbo may hit some home runs, but it doesn’t change the fact the M’s simply don’t hit with runners in scoring position.  they are fourth in the AL in home runs, but 14th in runs scored. They are second in the league in strikeouts. In their last 15 games the Mariners have scored four or more runs just four times.  Three of those games were just four runs, and the other game was the Fernando Rodney meltdown against Tampa Bay won in extra innings 7-6. It’s clear the M’s need offensive help.

It’s also easy to just brush this off as a panic move.  The fact of the matter is that not much is going right for the M’s.  They didn’t give up much to get Trumbo and Nuno.  It may help, but isn’t going to be transformative.  No, transformation will come when Robinson Cano begins to approach his career norms. The M’s will win more games if Dustin Ackley, Brad Miller and Mike Zunino begin to hit consistently.  That’s what the M’s planned for. The team will win more games when Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton return from the DL and if the bullpen, especially Mr. Rodney, go out and consistently become the run-stopping crew of 2014.

Finally, this should be a referendum on the types of teams Jack Zdurencik has assembled. Originally building his teams on run prevention-good pitching and defense-Jack has left the good defense part for the false promise of the home run ball.  He’s brought in a procession of players the past few years that have mashed, but mash no more-Corey Hart, Jack Cust, Mike Morse-as well as a few that only mash, notably Nelson Cruz and Mark Trumbo.  Set aside the signing of Cano and the development of Kyle Seager, and this is the team that he constructed through draft, trade and free agent signing.  Time is running out on the Jack Z Experience.  Fans expected more for this season and they’re entitled to demand blood if the good ship Mariner is wrecked on the rocks by July 1.

I shot an arrow in the sky and thought of Heathcliff Slocumb

Fernando Rodney bobblehead

I was able to watch all 105 of James Paxton’s pitches in yesterday’s whitewash of the Boston Red Sox.  Throwing fastball after fastball the visitors could not hit locate or hit squarely, the big southpaw left the game after eight innings, with the win firmly in hand 3-0.  Nothing flashy-five hits allowed, two strikeouts and two walks allowed, and a team of bewildered Bosox.

Yet, as Paxton left the mound for the last time in the game, against a backdrop of Fernando Rodney throwing in the bullpen, with a save situation on the the line, all I could think of was “Oh my god!!  Three runs aren’t enough!!”  Sure enough, Kyle Seager heard my telepathic message and hit a two-run homer in the top of the ninth.  No save situation, Rodney sat down, and Carson Smith came in to close out the the last inning on 15 pitches.

I am tired of the Fernando Rodney Hire Wire Act and Traveling Circus.  It’s official. Make no mistake, I like the man, find him funny and charming, and clearly he is bonded to his manager and teammates.  But I find nothing funny or charming about his 5.65 ERA, his 4.90 FIP, or his 1.605 WHIP. A pitcher cannot allow that many base runners in tight games and believe it will turn out well. We’re talking 15 hits and 8 walks in 14.1 innings pitched. Recipe for disaster.

Rodney has allowed runs in five of his 15 appearances, including three of his last four.

The only pitcher who ever made me feel the same was Heathcliff Slocumb in 1997.  You remember him.  Desperate for a bullpen leader, the M’s sent premier catching prospect Jason Varitek and young pitcher Derek Lowe to Boston for Slocumb after one too many Norm Charlton and Bobby Ayala fiascoes. Perhaps the worst trade in Mariner history (though the jury is out on Michael Pineda for, ulp, Jesus Montero.) You might remember the ’97 M’s team.  264 homers as a team, set the major league record.  They scored 924 runs.  But the bullpen was a whole bunch of terrifying.  The M’s were able to load up on runs, ride their decent starters and hold on for the last three innings.  Slocumb became your esteemed closer with his 4.13 ERA, 3.74 FIP and 1.447 WHIP.  No lead was safe.

The ’97 Mariners had larger systemic issues compared to this year’s crew.  Ayala and Slocumb were the best of a horrendous crew. The 2015 Mariners are much better, though not as good as last year’s superb bullpen staff. There is nothing as demoralizing to fans or teams as watching the man chosen to lead the bullpen late in tight games melt away to nothing like Frosty the Snowman on a June day. If Rodney continues to struggle, the M’s should look at others, like Tom Wilhelmsen, who has closer experience, or even young Mr. Smith who seems to have closer stuff and instincts, that can lead the bullpen by example while Rodney fixes himself

Are the M’s making their move?

The Mariners summarily shot the Padres last night amid a hail of home runs, disposing of their crumpled bodies 11-4. Kyle Seager (4), Logan Morrison (6, ) Mike Zunino (4,5,) Justin Ruggiano (1,) and Nelson Cruz (15,) all found the seats, and sent 16,148 fans home happy.  The six homers in a single game ties the club record set in 2004.  The win is the M’s fourth in a row, the longest win streak of the season.

The Mariners seem to have turned things around at home.  After a very disappointing 4-6 road trip to Texas, Houston and Anaheim, a few things seem to be turning around.  After a series of walk-off implosions by the bullpen, the team is on a nice little win streak.

Sometimes it’s easy to get too locked into a single game, a single series, or a single week as one attempts to evaluate the success or failure of a season.  The Mariners will play their 33rd game tonight, which will nudge them just over the 20% games played mark of the season.  It’s difficult to say if the Mariners are dragging themselves up to the level of contention we expected when the season began, or if this is merely a blip in the arc of a fatally flawed team.

Yes, they swept a Texas team that is gutted by injury.  They swept an Oakland team that isn’t very good, horribly undone by a bad defense and lousy offense.  They were clobbered in four games against a blazing hot Astros club that was in the midst of a nine straight run, but now seems exceedingly mortal.

So, in the grand sweep of things, there some things to be positive about.

  1. The rotation, while far from perfect, seems to be developing some consistency.  Felix and Happ continue to make consistently strong outings.  Though Paxton struggled with his command last night, each of his last three outings have gone at least six inning.  Tai Walker is still a bit of a wild card, and hasn’t gone more than five innings in his last three starts. Roenis Elias, filling in for the injured Hisashi Iwakuma, has improved in each of his three starts.  Walker better figure things out or he may find himself back in Tacoma when Iwakuma returns in June.
  2. The bullpen, with one notable exception, seems to have turned around its inconsistency. It’s clear the front office has read its own press, and they’ve acted quickly to deal with the walks, and blown leads. Yoervis Medina and Dominic Leone were banished to Tacoma after walk off losses in Anaheim.  Joe Beimel and Mark Lowe were called up and with the arrival of Tom Wilhelmsen from the DL seemed to make their presence felt in the Oakland series.  Danny Farquhar continues to struggle with location or a tendency to “nibble,” leading to baserunners and bad results.  Tough to say how long Lloyd will let that continue.
  3. Though it’s hard to say the problem is solved, the Mariners do seem to be scoring a few more runs.  More bats are coming to life and the offense seems less dependent on a barrage of solo home runs by Nelson Cruz. Logan Morrison and Robinson Cano seem to be heating up.  Seth Smith continues to be a regular contributor.  Could Mike Zunino’s pair of homers last night be sign that his early hitting woes are over? With others chipping in occasionally, the player that most concerns me is Dustin Ackley.  Of all the Mariners, he has the most to prove this year, and so far his limited contributions are simply not cutting it.
  4. Nelson Cruz continues to amaze me.  I, like most of my friends, considered him to be a big guy who could hit a bunch of home runs in a relatively small park and would strike out a lot.  I completely discounted his defense or other contributions to the club. I could not have been more wrong. The man, so far, has been a great hitter on this team.  Power from foul line to foul line, but with the sense to shorten his swing with two strikes and hit the ball up the middle. His home runs in Houston should convince anybody with eyes that the man can muscle ’em out of the freakin’ Grand Canyon. I’m impressed with his speed and his range in the outfield, though I’m not sure he has great defensive instincts. He has a great arm in right, but isn’t overly enamored of the gun, preferring to play smart and hit the cutoff man.  Together with Felix, he’s been the show thus far.
  5. The front office hasn’t sit still while the team sputters off to a slow start.  Moving Cruz largely to right, reducing Ackley’s playing time, the bullpen swaps, moving Chris Taylor to shortstop are all more than tinkering, but less than panicking. News across the web today suggested Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki could be available for the right deal.  ESPN’s David Schoenfeld immediately linked the Mariners to Tulo as a team that could have interest.  It almost certainly would  cost the M’s pitching they could not replace. But it wouldn’t shock me if Jack Z’ and Lloyd McClendon tried to upgrade either the outfield or DH with Cruz spending less time there and offensive struggles by Ackley, Rickie Weeks and Austin Jackson.

With the M’s little win streak, are the Mariners beginning to make their move for the division lead?  Still too early to tell, too small a sample size.  But if the Mariners rip off a big win streak or go 10-2 over the next couple of weeks we might be in a better place to answer the question

Paxton shines, clutch hitting fails: M’s lose to Astros in 10th

Nobody said it would easy. The Seattle Mariners cruised into Minutemaid Park fresh off a sweep of the Texas Rangers. Their opponents were the surprising., red-hot Houston Astros.

The Mariners scored two runs in the first inning when they loaded the bases against Astros starter, Scott Feldman. Nelson Cruz grounded into a double play, scoring Seth Smith. Kyle Seager followed with a single to push across Austin Jackson. Bingo, Mariners starter James Paxton had a 2-0 cushion. Unfortunately, it was all the runs the would get.

But the real story tonight was the pitching of Paxton. After last year’s promising season, the tall lefty stumbled out of the gate. Fighting injury most of spring training, Paxton had a strong first start against the Angels April 7th, only to be undone in his next three games. His last two starts, April 19th against the Rangers and April 25th against Minnesota, Paxton went only 4.2 and 2.2 innings respectively. Last night manager Lloyd McClendon was looking for more.

Paxton gave his teammates seven strong innings. Showing command of his fastball and devastating 12-6 breaking pitch, Paxton allowed only five hits and struck out seven.

The Astros lead the league in home runs and Jose Altuves. Though the former were absent in Thursday’s game, the diminutive second baseman would be their undoing. After the Mariners fruitful first inning, the Astros responded with a run in their half of the first when Evan Gattis scored Altuve on a ground out. The M’s nursed a one run lead into the 6th when Gattis repeated the formula again to drive in Luis Valbuena on an infield out.

Though the Mariners had plenty of base runners, with 11 hits, they could not manage the clutch hit to score the decisive run. The Mariners had runners in scoring position in the 2nd, 4th, 8th, and 9th innings.

By the 8th inning, both teams fully deployed their bullpens, and sent the game into extras. With Mariners right-hander Dominic Leone pitching, Marwin Gonzalez doubled. Colby Rasmus followed with a walk, bringing up Altuve. He smashed the first pitch he saw into the left field corner to score the winning run. Finis.

The strong outing for James Paxton should give Mariners hope as the M’s continue to search for consistent offense in their four game series against the Astros.

Cruz launches, Felix labors, as M’s sweep Rangers.

The Texas Rangers entered tonight’s game with a team batting average of .212, by far the lowest in the major leagues.  They faced Mariners ace Felix Hernandez, coming off his best start of the season.  Felix seemed to fight himself most of the night, but managed to get the win as the Mariners swept the Rangers in the series finale 5-2.

The M’s featured plenty of offense, if one counts putting men on base.  With nine hits, six walks and the beneficiaries of four Rangers errors, this game probably should have been a blowout.  But timely hitting remained elusive for the Mariners as they were 3-15 with runners in scoring position and left 11 runners on base.  Aggressive baserunning had Ricky Weeks thrown out at the plate twice on contact plays from third base. Brad Miller was thrown out at third on a subsequent play.  It seemed the bases were full of Mariners most of the night, but clutch hitting simply was not a weapon in their arsenal.

They were beneficiaries of another Nelson Cruz home run, a rocket shot that got out into the second deck of the Globe Life Stadium fast and far.  Taped by StatCast at 483 feet, it is the longest homer in the majors so far this season.  Logan Morrison’s 4-5 night ended weeks of futility and drove in two runs to keep the Rangers just out of reach, including a key single in the 9th inning to score Robinson Cano.

Hernandez seemed to struggle with the strike zone throughout his 6.2 inning outing.  It was a contrast to his efficient outing against the Twins April 24th.  Though only in serious trouble in the 2nd when the Rangers scored both their runs, the Felix threw 114 pitches in this game in contrast to the 102 pitch complete game he spun against Minnesota. If Felix didn’t have his A game, it still seemed more than enough to hold down a Texas team that is increasingly looking like last year’s injury-riddled squad. Hernandez finished April with a 4-0 record.

Tonight the M’s found their walking shoes and dancing shoes, but they’re still looking for their hitting shoes. They’ll need them as they head into Houston for a four game series against the division leader.

M’s need to put on their hitting shoes

J.A. Happ turned in another gem in his fourth start of the season. Entering the game with a 3.9K/9 average, Happ dominated the first six innings, struck out ten and left after 6.2 innings.  Manager Lloyd McLendon ran through his bullpen Rolodex to close out the final 2.1 innings.  The Mariners hung on to beat the Texas Rangers 2-1.

The Mariners dinged the Rangers early for a couple of runs.  After a leadoff triple, Nelson Cruz scored in the fourth on a Kyle Seager out.  Rickie Weeks followed Seager with a solo home run.  That was it for Mariners scoring. The Mariners only had seven hits in the game, following a pattern in the M’s offense.  Score a little early, and then hold on tight, because there’s not likely going to be more later. Of the Mariners last ten games, since April 18th, the M’s have scored after the fifth inning only three times.

Last night was no different.  Facing the hapless Ross Detwiler, whom they pounded mercilessly April 19th in Seattle, the Mariners managed just five hits in 5.1 innings, and only two more against the Rangers bullpen.  What’s more only three Mariners had hits.  Cruz, Weeks, and Justin Ruggiano had multi-hit games. It’s hard to go fast when only a few of your cylinders are firing.

Today is Happy Felix Day.  We celebrate every fifth day.  But it would be nice to find him a little run support and get the beast firing on all cylinders.  They may be able to get by a miserable Texas team scoring two runs a game, but on Friday they sail in to Houston for a weekend series against the division leaders.   The ‘Stro’s can hit, run, and this year they can pitch too.  As Dave Niehaus used to say, the Mariners “need to put on their hitting shoes.”

Not much to cheer in Sea-Town

We’re 19 games into the season, and the Mariners are 8-11.  It could be worse.  The Nationals, pre-season favorite to win the whole damn thing, are 7-13.  The Indians, picked to beat the M’s in the ALCS, are a miserable 6-12 and 7 games behind the division leading Tigers.

Do I think it will finish this way, with M’s winning something like 70 games and the Astro’s winning the division?  Probably not.  But the Mariners are off to a disconcerting start, given the high expectations held for them.

The Good

Nelson Cruz-Reams were written about this guy, how he couldn’t hit at Safeco, how his home run numbers were inflated in Baltimore, and his terrible defense.  Yet his .308/.358/.693 slash line clearly leads the team.  His 6 walks is tied for the team lead, as are his 16 strikeouts. He leads the league in home runs and rbi’s which may not be a surprise, but what’s impressed me most has been his hustle and his effort on defense. I like him better as a DH, just for injury prevention, but he’s earned a shot in the outfield. Without Cruz, the Mariners record might be unspeakable.

Felix Hernandez-To be expected I suppose. Except for his injury-shortened April 12th start against Oakland, Felix has been very Felix-like.  Quality starts, a strike throwing machine, Felix has give up five runs in four starts, including three in his five inning Oakland game.  He’s been the rock we always imagine him to be. With a 10.9 K/9, 1.61 ERA, .79 WHIP, and a 238 ERA+, Felix is off to another superb start

J.A. Happ-I was critical of the trade for Happ.  Yet, he’s done nothing but impress in his three starts. He’s thrown three quality games, and with a little consistent run support could be 3-0.  He’s allowed two runs in each of his starts.  Though his numbers aren’t as gaudy as the King’s. Happ is dependable when 3/5’s of Mariners starts are a crap shoot leading off with snake-eyes. If Happ continues to pitch as he has while the rest of the starters try to find themselves.

The Bad

James Paxton, Taijuan Walker and Hisashi Iwakuma-When three-fifths of your starting staff can’t consistently go five quality innings your team is in trouble.  This is the  ERA/FIP/WHIP/ERA+ for the Three Amigos:

James Paxton  6.86/4.71/1.576/56

Taijuan Walker 6.86/3.79/1.831/56

Hisashi Iwakuma  6.61/6.26/1.408/56

These are all terrible.  With Iwakuma on the DL and his replacement by Roenis Elias, and Walker’s encouraging start last night, perhaps there are signs of encouragement. Clearly things cannot continue if the Mariners hope to contend.

Mike Zunino-Zunino, picking up from last year, continues to be great on defense and bad at the plate. Despite the success of his Spring Training approach of spreading out at the plate to provide additional coverage, Zunino is striking out at a prodigious rate without offensive success.  With a .132/.203/.264 slash line, Mike needs to start coming around.

Dustin Ackley-Hi, my name is Dustin Ackley and I’ve got a great beard.  But that’s about all.  After three home runs in his first handful of games, he’s become Mr. Lost at the plate. With a .200/.245/.400 slash line, it’s clear that Lloyd McClendon is beginning to tire of his inconsistency and others are starting to get his at bats. With Patrick Kivlehan and Franklin Gutierrez putting up some numbers in Tacoma, it’s uncertain how long his leash will be, given his history of inconsistency.

The Bullpen-It’s hard to tell if the relief staff’s stumbling start is the result of bad pitching, or is simply following the opening implosion of the starting staff.  Whichever, it’s hard to imagine these seven guys are same ones who pitched so well last year and not creatures crawling out last year’s Houston Astros bullpen. Of the seven, only Carson Smith has performed, consistently.  Fernando Rodney’s Traveling Circus continues its road (and home) show, and features Danny Farquhar as an opening act.  If the starting pitching improves and fewer demands are made on the bullpen, perhaps things will turn around.  But of all the problems, the bullpen issue may be of most concern.

Scoring-Despite Nelson’s Cruz’s heroics, the Mariners rank 13th in the American League in scoring.  Yes, I buy all the arguments about slow starts and giving things time, but combined with the pitching woes, an inability to score runs means a challenge in winning games. In their 19 games they’ve scored three runs or less 11 times.

Yes, I do believe it’s too early to begin searching the sea for life rafts.  But it is just as clear that the Mariners aren’t scoring enough runs.  it’s seemed that no lead is safe and the M’s have become adept at letting games slip away late.  We see fan awareness as attendance slips with every home loss. The M’s need to begin turning things around now if they want to keep fan interest after the NFL draft.

3-4, and what have we learned?

The M’s finished their first official week of play at three wins and four losses.  After all the pre-season hype, a fan might hope the M’s were a bit closer to the unbeaten mark.  But that is the beauty of a 162 game season: we’re just getting started and there are 155 games left to play.

Have you checked the standings lately? Your Seattle Mariners, despite their struggles are a half game behind the division leading Oakland Athletics, are tied with the Angels and Astros, and remain one full game ahead of projected World Series champions, Washington Nationals.

Is there something to worry about?  Despite the boom and bust quality of this team out of the gate, I am inclined to say no. My belief is it takes a good 35-40 games to know what a team is going to be over the course of a season, and fully evaluate a team’s strengths and weaknesses. The length of the season is the beauty of this game.  It’s important not to get caught up in the moment of a single game, a single series or even a single week.

Nevertheless, it is distressing that in the last two games, Sunday’s game against the A’s and Monday’s game against the Dodgers, the M’s got off to big leads-four runs in each game-and gave them away.  That is very unlike last year’s pitching performances.  Though the Mariners ended up splitting those games, fans can only hope this is a little blip on the radar of a long season.  If this is like a sudden onset of anxiety, that’s fine. But if Paxton meltdowns, Rodney pyrotechnics, and Walker supernovas are features of a full-blown personality disorder, this team will be in a lot of trouble despite Nelson Cruz’s entertaining fireworks displays.

Plenty of time to figure this out, but keep your eyes peeled and know where the air-raid shelters are.

SoDo Mojo

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