Riding a four-game win streak, the Mariners find themselves in second place in the AL West with a 6-6 record. Against Detroit the last two games—including the 4-2 win last night—Mariner pitching has allowed just five runs. Yet, besides Felix Hernandez, no is really putting up big time strikeout numbers. What this says to me is that the M’s defense is picking up the pitching nicely, making a lot of outs themselves. On the season, Seattle’s staff is sixth in the AL in ERA, but just 12th in strikeouts, supporting the notion that its defense is back making a lot of plays in the field this year. That infield has turned the second most double plays in the AL, and Seattle has only allowed two runners to reach base on errors–an encouraging sign considering Jose Lopez has never played third in the majors before now.
On the offensive side, the Mariners finally put some numbers up in the runs column two nights ago, chasing Jeremy Bonderman in the bottom of the fifth en route to an 11-3 win. So the Ms scored 11 in that game, and 32 in the the other 11 games. Ouch.
Many Mariner fans are expecting to make a run at the AL West crown, and see this 6-6 record as underachievement. Before we get too critical, though, remember that Seattle is still missing Cliff Lee and Erik Bedard, two of the better pitchers in the American League. Starters Jason Vargas, Ryan Rowland-Smith and Ian Snell have combined for a -6.4 run value, implying that in just 32 innings they have already cost the Mariners an estimated 6.4 runs over some hypothetical trio of league-average pitchers. Lee and Bedard are hardly average pitchers, and figure to save the M’s defense some runs when they return.
Before last night, Seattle was scoring just 2.8 runs per game. While we know the offense is going to be a sore subject much of the year, it is not going to be this bad. The other night was a good example of how the Mariners need to create runs. They hit 11 singles and 1 triple. Not a single dinger, but they walked six times. This team is not going to hit for power, and it could very likely finish dead last in the AL in homeruns. Extra baserunners will be crucial if the Ms want to compete for a playoff spot. Newcomer, Chone Figgins, helped make up for the powerless offense last night, taking three free passes to first, himself.
The hitting will come around (some), the pitching will get off the DL and into the bullpen, and the defense should continue to gobble up everything in play. Basically, this Mariner team is playing below potential and still sits at 6-6, second in the division. They will make a legitimate run at the AL West title this season.
BUT A quick rant on the scoring subject: stealing bases can be important to manufacturing key runs, no doubt. However, stealing third with two outs is just plain stupid. I’m looking at you, Ichiro. I don’t know if Wakamatsu called it, or Ichiro just went, but in the 3rd inning Ichiro swiped third with two outs. Good job, you got it this time, but against the A’s last week you blew it and squandered a golden scoring opportunity. Figgins walked on the same play, and Gutierrez hit a triple to drive them both in. My point is this: Ichiro would have scored anyway, and he will score from second on virtually ANY hit. During his career, he has been thrown out stealing third 17% of the time. The marginal advantage of getting to third just isn’t worth the cost of possibly ending the inning getting cut down. His steal of third last night made no difference in the Mariners scoring that inning, but getting caught last week may have cost the Mariners a run or two in a close ball game.