Sports

Mariners are passing their mid-terms

What if I would’ve told you back when the Major League baseball season started that the Seattle Mariners would be just a half game out of first place come June 19?
You would’ve put me down with a case of old-age-has-made-this-guy-mad.
Are the Mariners for real or are they just teasing us being 1½ games out of first place by June 27 after taking two of three against Florida when the Marlins were the visiting team at Safeco and that after dropping three one-run games in Washington?
Are they really in this pennant race for the long haul or is the American League West such a disaster that a team with a .500 record can be in contention?
Atlanta and San Diego this week are to wind up inter-league play and then go down to Oakland and the L.A. Angels of Anaheim to see what the Mariners really are made of.
Two of three against the Braves, a couple of wins against the Padres, then winning the Oakland and L.A. series would set up the Mariners real nice after the break.
How are they staying in the pennant chase? With great pitching, adequate defense and great pitching, from starters and relievers. Situational hitting and scoring with men on base has been a problem for Seattle, but that’s also true, for that matter, for many baseball teams.
Seattle probably is leading the league in men left on base in scoring position. Take last Sunday night. They wasted a good effort by starting pitcher Doug Fister, but scored a run in the top of the 10th inning on a double, a flyout which moved a runner to third and a wild pitch when the Marlins were trying to walk a batter intentionally.
Let’s look at the players:

Outfield
When the season started, only Ichiro was a fixture and the right fielder continues in that pasture. He had a big slump in May but is coming out of it and may get his 200 hits after all.
Franklin Gutierrez was on the disabled list when the season opened and the team tried Michael Saunders in center, but he’s back in Tacoma and Gutierrez is the almost-every-day center fielder as he still is recovering from the illness that robbed him of pounds and strength.
When he needs a rest, they plug in Greg Halman, the rookie. He also helps in left. Milton Bradley is long gone and they brought up Carlos Peguero and Mike Wilson, but Wilson is back in Tacoma. Mike Carp came up from the Rainiers but hasn’t seen regular action. He can play outfield or first base but may be then next designated hitter.
Peguero has been a surprise and I like the way they are playing him and Halman. Looks like Gutierrez’s at bats are getting better, so the Mariner outfield has speed, they can all hit and I’m happy.

Infield
Chone Figgins started the season at third and he’s been the everyday fixture on the hot corner since, except for the past week. He’s mired in a super batting slump and it’s telling on his defense, so utility man Adam Kennedy was at third most of last week and hitting very well.
Brendon Ryan moved up to second in the batting order and the shortstop has been terrific in the field. Jack Wilson was the second sacker, having moved from shortstop, but now is the sub and mentoring the new rookie Dustin Ackley (more on him later).
Justin Smoak has been a real delight at first with his defense and he’s among the tops in runs batted in. He will just get better.

Catching
I had doubts about Miguel Olivo, but not any more as he’s proving to be a durable backstop, a great handler of pitchers and he’s hitting for power and average. He has more home runs already than the entire catching corps had last year.
Chris Gimenez sees infrequent action, but is a great backup.
Adam Moore is on the DL for the rest of the season.
DH — Remember Jack Cust? I thought he was going to help, but Cust has not hit his weight, is not hitting for power or average and he will not be the regular designated hitter the rest of the way.
He might be traded at the end of July, but I don’t know of any team who needs him.
In the meantime, Halman, Kennedy, Carp and Peguero are capable.

Pitching
We knew going in that Felix Hernandez, Erik Bedard, Doug Fister and Jason Vargas were going to be solid, but little did we know that rookie Michael Pineda was going to be so good.
A bullpen of Jamey Wright, Chris Ray, David Pauley, Aaron Laffey, Shawn Kelley and Brandon League has contributed and been great … with a few exceptions. David Aardsma is eligible for reinstatement, but don’t hold your breath on this one.

What’s needed?
One more solid bat in the middle of the order would be great and maybe Ackley will be the guy.
Ackley was selected by the Mariners, then signed and has been groomed through the minors by the Mariners and was called up from Tacoma in June like everyone expected as a 2009 second overall draft choice.
Drafted as an outfielder, he has been transformed into a second baseman and, based on the first two weeks, he’s not far away from being a top second sacker and it looks like manager Eric Wedge has told the young man to go out and play, you are the second baseman from here on in.
His bat is crisp and he hits ringing doubles, has a couple of triples already and a homer. He also has some patience at the plate and right now probably is the toughest two-strike hitter on the club.
The last top draft choice to play every day in a Seattle uniform was a kid named Alex Rodriguez and remember he struggled his first two years before his big breakout in 1996 when he became an all-star. It was too bad he had to move on when free agency beckoned.
Are they going to be able to stay in the race after the All-Star break? One would hope so. Law of averages says the hitting will get better.

MLB notes
I really like inter-league play  but would suggest that when a National League team visits an American League park they play National rules and visa versa. That would enable the home fans to see what it’s like in the other league.
The All-Star break is coming and I still like the fact that the winning team decides which league hosts the first game of the World Series.
The Mariners still are the only team in baseball that started with a five-man pitching rotation and hasn’t deviated from the fab five.

Better hitting and all of those starters would be in the 8-10 win range.

 

Reach Scooter Chapman at scooter@olypen.com.
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