2012 Seattle Mariners 2-Month Review: April & May

And, you know, I guess March too.

I needed something to write about today.  Today just so happens to be a day on the calendar very close to the end of the month of May.  Ergo, a review of the first third of the season.

Officially, this is going to be kind of cheating because the stats I’m about to throw out will include yesterday’s game against the White Sox, but sue me, because I don’t feel like doing the math involved with eliminating yesterday’s contest.  Besides, I feel like yesterday is a pretty good sample of what the season has been so far for the Seattle Mariners.

I broke up my Season Preview into two parts:  Hitting & Pitching.  I’ll keep this as a single post, but first I’ll look at the hitting and try to refer back to my original work to see where things are going compared to my initial opinion of things.

And I’ll kick things off with Dustin Ackley.  He’s the one guy I was convinced we wouldn’t have to worry about on this team.  And, truth be told, I’m still not worried about him.  Though, let’s be honest, there’s certainly room for improvement.

His .254 batting average is third on the team.  In looking at the second part of that sentence – third on the team – you might think, “All right!  Not bad!”.  But, if you take your frame of reference outside of the Mariners’ Level of Hell we’ve been mired in for the past three seasons, then you’ll know that .254 is NOT an acceptable batting average.

Except for a lull in early April where he was as low as .231, Ackley has been right around his current average all season.  That’s not gonna work for me.  Ideally, he will find a way to improve by about 50 points between now and the end of the season.  Failing that, I would like to see him sit around .275 or so.  With the way he’s able to keep his OBP up, that should put a nice finishing boost on his overall OPS going into next season.  At that point, with a year & change under his belt in the Majors, I think we can expect that Ackley will have figured out all the adjustments he needs to figure out to be a .300 hitter for the bulk of his career.  Outlook:  bright.

Following Ackley, as he has in the batting order for so much of his baseball career since college, let’s look at the most pleasant surprise on this Mariners team:  Kyle Seager.

Seager leads the team in batting average with .283.  Now THAT is where you want to be at this point in your career!  And don’t let the fact that he looks like a male version of Punky Brewster fool you, this guy has a future in Major League Baseball!  He currently leads the team in OPS at .806, which is just … *sniff* … there are no words.  It’s so damn beautiful I could cry!  What?  No, I’m not crying right now!  There’s just something in my eye!

Also, Seager leads the team in RBI with 31.  That puts him in the Top 20 in the AL.  It’s not much, but it’s a start.

I was pretty high on Seager to start the season, putting him in my catagory of Guys We Have Reason To Hope Will Be Good.  That may have been jumping the gun a little bit, but for whatever reason I’ve always liked this guy.  He’s just a pure hitter, plain and simple.  He’ll never lead the league in power numbers, but he’ll be an important piece for this team for a long time.

Next on the list, I’ll discuss Jesus Montero.  This is his first full season in the Majors, so I don’t want to be too hard on the guy, but let’s just say he’s not There yet.  A .251 batting average, a most-unimpressive .294 OBP.  What’s keeping his OPS from being a total disgrace are his power numbers.  He’s second on the team in Homers with 7 and fifth on the team in doubles with 9.

Make no mistake, I’m not down on the guy at all!  He’s still learning how to be a regular catcher (not necessarily an “every-day” catcher because … Olivo), he’s still technically (I believe) a rookie, and there is still a LOT of promise in his bat.  The way he’s able to go the other way with power.  The way he’s occasionally able to rip mistakes down the left field line to keep pitchers honest.  I think he very well COULD be the next Edgar Martinez for this team.  But, Edgar wasn’t Edgar overnight.  I would still look for big things out of this guy in the coming seasons.  Let’s just get through this one healthy and with some semblance of momentum at the end.

Next, let’s take a look at the guy I’m (so far) most proud of on this team.  Justin Smoak.

This guy was getting KILLED in the press earlier this season, and for good reason.  As late as May 9th, Smoak was hitting .173 thanks to a 3 for 30 stretch to open up the month.  From there, over the next 21 games (of which he played in 19), Smoak has raised his average 65 points!  He’s had 6 homers in that stretch (compared to 3 in our first 33 games), 18 RBI (compared to 10 before), and he’s raised his OPS to a somewhat-respectable .688 (compared to a downright Figginsian .493 up until that point).

In short, Smoak has been on a tear.  And you know what I think?  I think this is just who he is gonna be.  He’s going to be a streaky player who is insanely hot for a month, and ice cold for a month.  What he’s got to take better control of is exactly HOW cold he gets.  He can’t be hitting .173 for very long and expect to retain his Major League status.  “Cold” for him needs to be around .225.  And “Hot” for him should start approaching .300 or .325.  It looks like he’s got his shit figured out so far, but I’ve been fooled by Smoak before.

One of the other more pleasant surprises this season (after Seager) has probably been Michael Saunders.  Granted, his .241 batting average isn’t lighting the world on fire.  But, he’s far from the total disaster he’s been the past three seasons in the Majors.  Hell, compare his numbers this year to last and you will see across-the-board improvement.

He played in 58 games last year; this year he has been in 51.  So far, his average is almost 100 points higher.  He has 13 doubles compared to 5 last year; 4 homers compared to 2; 16 RBI compared to 8; and he has already walked more as well as stolen more bases.  Whatever he did to improve his swing in the offseason has CLEARLY worked.

That having been said, what Michael Saunders has been over the first two months isn’t what you would consider to be a “starting calibre” outfielder.  I don’t care how good his defense has been.  But, at least he has shown he’s a bona fide Major League reserve outfielder.  He currently has probably another month or so before Franklin Gutierrez comes back from the DL.  In that month, I would REALLY like to see him make a push to improve that batting average and slugging percentage.  He could make Wedge’s life a lot more difficult if he’s able to make the push from Major League Reserve to Major League Starter.

Finally, I’m just going to run through a few other guys.  Alex Liddi has been nice to see.  He’s done some impressive things.  And I wouldn’t mind seeing more of the guy.  Mike Carp has had a tough go thus far, what with landing on the DL.  He’s sub-Mendoza right now, so he’s going to have to pick that up.  As it is, he’s losing significant playing time to Liddi (who isn’t even a natural outfielder, but the Mariners are trying to shoe-horn him into being one).  Olivo, Figgins, and Ryan have all been fucking disasters and I can’t wait until they’re all out of my life.  And, of course, Ichiro has been Ichiro (except for the fact that his batting average is about 50 points below his career average).  He’s still a starting-calibre guy for us, but he’s clearly at the end of his career.  Maybe one or two more years TOPS.  Here’s to hoping those lame duck seasons are in another city.

***

On the pitching side of things, I don’t have nearly as much to say.  That’s mostly because we’re talking about a group as a whole where most of them won’t even be on the roster next year, if not the year after.  Guys I expect to be gone after 2012 (if not sometime mid-season):  Kevin Millwood, Jason Vargas, Brandon League, Hisashi Iwakuma, George Sherrill, Steve Delabar.

And, when you look at the starters, I would expect to see four new guys behind Felix next season.  I think Beavan is destined for a long relief role (in which he will continue to Beavan his way through until the team finally gives up on him and trades him for scraps).  I think Noesi will be flipped in a trade (either as a throw-in, like he was in the Pineda deal, or for more scraps).  And I think we’re looking at the rise of the kids for 2013 (with probably one veteran signing a la Kevin Millwood, just to cover our asses).

But, I guess this is commentary for another time.  Right now, let’s look at the starters.

Felix has been Felix.  Yeah, he’s had some struggles of late, but he’s still Felix and I still expect him to turn things around.  He’s had some duds against the White Sox, Angels, Indians, and Yankees, but those are all really good teams.  Anyway, it’s June now.  This is traditionally the time where Felix turns on the ol’ Wiggum charm.  Moving on.

Vargas has been Vargas, in that he has – for the most part – been very good the first couple months of the season.  We’ll see if he turns back into a pumpkin as he has the previous two seasons.  His contract with whoever he signs with this offseason kinda depends on it.

Millwood has gone from being the fucking Holocaust in his first 6 starts (posting a 5.88 ERA in the process) to actually being a guy you can be proud of having in your starting rotation the last 4 starts (lowering said ERA to 3.56).  Including a 2-hitter in Colorado!  This gives me real hope that we can actually GET something for him come July 31st.  Fingers crossed this Renaissance continues!

Beavan … ugh.  I have absolutely nothing to say about Beavan.  Turn into Doug Fister already so we can trade you!

And Noesi.  This guy, I hate.  One could argue I haven’t given him a chance to win me over, but I could counter with:  what reason has HE given ME?  I don’t want to look at his pitch location, I don’t want to talk about whether or not he has been “unlucky”.  I want results.  I care about wins and losses and how many runs this guy has given up.  Give me the bottom line or get the FUCK off my team!  He leads the team in homers given up, he hardly strikes anybody out, he has no real command of his pitches so he has no idea where they’re going to end up.  The guy is a joke.  The Mariners have been cursed with guys like Noesi since the mid-90s.  Guys with plus fastballs, guys with lots of movement on their pitches, but for whatever reason, guys who can’t hack it on game day.  I want Noesi gone.  I want him gone yesterday.

As for our bullpen, the main story is obviously Brandon League blowing his way out of the closer’s job.  True, he’s had a rough go, and a rough go at the most inopportune time for him (when he’s about to be a free agent).  Likewise, it’s the most inopportune time for the Mariners as well, because we were looking to trade this guy at the deadline.  There’s still time, but for the time being he’s going to be working his way back to respectability in a set-up role.

As for the others, there’s been a lot to like about Wilhelmsen.  I don’t think he’s our “Closer of the Future” or anything, but his K/9IP rate is off the charts!  Luetge still hasn’t given up a run in 18 appearances (spanning a meager 11.1 innings), so it’s safe to say this Rule 5 guy has been a nice story for this team as our sometimes lefty specialist.  Furbush, after a quick sojourn to Triple A, has bounced back as another lefty arm in the bullpen with flying colors.  Delabar was recently sent down to Tacoma for giving up too many homers (and not getting enough right handers out in spite of the fact that he throws with his right hand), so we might not be seeing him for a while.  Iwakuma has appeared in 5 games even though he’s been on the team since Opening Day.  That says a LOT about what the team thinks about his abilities.  Then again, maybe they’re just saving him up to give him a bigger load in the second half of the season.

***

The Seattle Mariners ended the month of May with a 23-30 record.  We were tied for last in the AL West with the Oakland A’s.  We were 9 games back of Texas.  We were the 7th worst team in all of baseball.

There have been surprises here and there.  For instance, we’re 5-5 against the Rangers and 5-1 against the Tigers!  Of course, we’re also 1-4 against the Indians and got swept in our only series against the Angels, 4-0.  We’ve had a perfect game pitched against us and we’ve had a 7-game losing streak.

However, all that having been said, this team just FEELS better.  Even though as of the end of May in 2011 we were 27-26 and only 1.5 games out of first.  We’re hitting better (perfect game notwithstanding), we’re scoring more runs.  Hell, we put up 21 on the Rangers just a few days ago!

Obviously, this Mariners team isn’t going to contend for shit.  But, it’s not TOTALLY impossible for the Mariners in 2013 to make some noise.  Gets me all hard just thinking about it.

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