Sports

Mariners are staying alive in AL West

The Hood Canal bridge is back open and now I can get to a Seattle Mariner game now and then without having to drive umpteen hundred miles.

My last in-person game was April 18 and a lot of water has gone under the bridge since that time. Is the season over? Do the Mariners have a chance to get back into the race for the AL West title? Will they start purging players as the July 31 trading deadline nears?

Those are questions being mulled over by Mariner brass.

As I get ready to send this, the Mariners have a record of 27-29. They are third in the AL West standings, five games behind leading Texas and 0-5 against the Rangers.

Here are the other numbers: 15-14 at Safeco, 12-15 on the road. 11-9 in day games, 16-20 night tilts, 15-12 in one run games, 4-3 in extra frames.

Want more? The Mariners are 13-14 against the AL West: 7-6 vs. LA, 6-3 vs. Oakland and winless in five starts against Texas.

The Mariners are 6-3 against the AL East, 6-11 vs. AL Central and 2-1 against the National League.



Around the horn

Let's look at position by position with Chapman analysis ...

At first, Russell Banyan has proved he is an everyday player and can hit against both right and left-handed hurlers. His play around the bag has been adequate. Waiting in the wings is Bryan LaHair in Tacoma.

Manager Don Wakamatsu moved him from clean up to second in the order last week and he did very well so he might stay there.

Jose Lopez is at second. He can frustrate you when at bat but then can launch a long ball. His defense can be spectacular and awful. I might trade this guy if I could get a consistent hitter. He has hit well in the past week or so and is the team's runs-batted-in leader. Mariner brass probably will keep him right where he is.

Then there's Yuniesky Betancort at shortstop. Flashy fielder? Yes. Can get to any ball left or right? Yes. Can throw it accurately? Sometimes. Can hit? They've tried him in the 8-hole and the 2-hole. He has become more patient at the plate. He is hard to figure.

I like backup Ronny Cedeno at either short or second. Yes, I would trade Yuni and he wound up the last home stand sitting on the bench.

Now the 64-buck question: What to do with Adrian Beltre at third? His fielding is gold glove. His batting has fallen in the past two seasons and his power output has dropped. I would trade him in a heartbeat as he is in the last year of a big contract that has weighed upon the team. He fits better in the National League. Matt Tuiasosopo is waiting in Tacoma for his chance to shine.



Outfield

Ichiro Suzuki is a superb right fielder and can hit for average and has some power. Endy Chavez has been good in left and Franklin Gutierrez is a solid center guy.

Wladimir Balentien is waiting for a chance to play more. I think he is the future, even though he needs much more work on outfield defense. He has trouble tracking the ball off the bat, I think.

Back in April, the Mariners did well with Chavez leading off and Gutierrez hitting second. I would go back to that if I were manager. I'd bat Ichiro third where his singles and doubles might drive in more runs and might make him try to exert his latent power stroke.



Designated hitter/catcher

As much is I thought Ken Griffey Jr. was going to be the answer at this spot, it hasn't happened. He looks like a 39-year-old at the plate and has not provided the key doubles and singles to drive in runs as he promised he would do, even though he did come through last Saturday with a key double stroke.

Power numbers are down and, as of last Sunday, he had just six homers and 18 runs batted in. At times he seems patient at the plate and gets his walks, other times, like an 0-for-22 recently, he waves at pitches he can't hit.

Look for Mike Sweeney to get more at-bats the rest of the way unless Junior comes out of it. Right now he has an average that doesn't cut it for a designated hitter.

With Kenji Johjima injured, the burden has fallen on Rob Johnson; and the young catcher has done well. He hasn't had enough major league experience at the plate, however, but can handle pitchers. His plate production will improve.



Hurling

The Mariners started with a rotation of Felix Hernandez, Erik Bedard, Carlos Silva, Jarrod Washburn and Ryan Rowland-Smith.

The rotation at the end of May was Felix, Erik, Jason Vargas, Jarrod and Garrett Olson. That group has a very nice earned-run average but the lack of run support hasn't helped the hurlers.

They tried Brandon Morrow at closer - did not work. Now David Aardsma is the ninth-inning guy and was 8-for-8 saves until blowing a big one a week ago Sunday in Anaheim. Miguel Batista is in the pen and either is very good or very bad. Sean White, Mark Lowe, Chris Jakabauskus and Roy Corcoran are in the pen and Silva was such a disappointment that he is on the bench with a disabled list and probably never again will pitch for the Mariners.



The future

The Mariners have not hit the ball at all. They've left too many men on base and I don't care how good the pitching has been, the hurlers need to have run support so they don't have to be so very, very fine against the good hitters on the other teams.

Can they right the ship? Maybe. Will they start wheeling and dealing? I think so.

Reach Scooter Chapman via e-mail at scooter@olypen.com.



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