It hasn’t been easy in the early going, that’s for damn sure. I don’t know if people were expecting the Mariners to be dominant right out of the gate, but there is a sense of this team being just like all the others we’ve had to endure the last few years. Now, I’ll give you the fact that the two shutouts in the first seven games doesn’t look great. But, teams are getting shut out all over the place in the early going! Every team is going to have its share of games where the offense just doesn’t get off the ground.
But, I would argue that the bigger problem right now is the pitching. Specifically, the starting pitching.
Felix had his great start on Opening Day, but when does he NOT have a great start on Opening Day? Paxton followed that up with a solid effort in his first game. Then, we had Iwakuma giving up 5 runs in the first two innings of his first start. It was mighty wide of him to pull 6 innings out of his ass that day, but the damage was done early. Speaking of damage done early, Walker also gave up 5 runs in the first two innings last Friday. Of course, he went on to give up 9 runs and didn’t manage to get out of the 4th inning. That was followed by a decent start out of Happ (with the bullpen giving up the lead), a pretty crappy start by an injured Felix (with the bullpen again giving up the lead), and finally the mess we had yesterday with the offense giving us a 4-run lead, only for Paxton to immediately give it all away the second time through the lineup.
Last year, the offense was pretty mediocre, but you could see it start to turn a corner. Nevertheless, it was heavily propped up by a top-notch pitching staff that was great for most of the year. This year, the team has worked to improve the offense, and I think we’re starting to see some turnaround. Seth Smith and Dustin Ackley have started out on fire. Nelson Cruz has done EXACTLY what we’d hoped he would at the plate (4 homers in 7 games). Seager and Miller have started off a little sluggish, but their power numbers look good in the early going. The infield defense has been superb for the most part. And, well, you take what you can get out of the outfield defense (and I refuse to hold these National League games against LMC when he’s choosing his lineups; what, are you NOT going to play your high-priced power hitter because the N.L. foolishly sticks with their stance against the DH?).
The 2015 Mariners aren’t going to match the 2001 squad when it comes to offense, but it should be more than good enough. Good enough, that is, unless the pitching falls apart. Obviously, Felix will be fine, but I have real concerns about the rest of this group.
I think it’s totally reasonable to wonder if Iwakuma is done. Or, at least, on the road to being done. I can’t remember the last time I saw a pitcher as good as he was totally hit the wall like this. In his final 7 starts of 2014, he was an absolute trainwreck. And, to be perfectly honest, if you wanted to blame a single guy for why the Mariners didn’t make the playoffs last year, it wouldn’t be totally inappropriate to look Iwakuma’s way. 28 runs – all of them earned – over 32 innings. Somehow, the Mariners still managed to go 4-3 in those games, but there isn’t a single game in that run where you can look at his numbers and be impressed. He’s since followed up that stretch with a dog of a first game this year, and here we go. In his last 8 games (including this year), he’s given up 7 homers. Before that – dating back to the beginning of the 2014 season, he gave up only 14 homers in 21 games. He’s leaving the ball up in the zone too much, which is a problem because he’s about as easy as it gets to hit when he’s up in the zone. If the Mariners fail to make the playoffs this year, he’s going to be the first guy I look at.
Happ is Happ. It’s pretty easy to expect the worst. But, he’s a fifth starter, and ideally you just want to be somewhere around .500 in those games.
Which leaves Paxton and Walker, the two wild cards. Paxton has shown a lot of promise when he’s been healthy, but he’s still young and prone to go through growing pains. Walker is even less of a certainty. He’s got the stuff, and he’s got the moxie, but if the radar gun in Oakland is accurate, then he’s got a pretty lifeless low-90s fastball, with offspeed stuff that isn’t nearly good enough to compensate. Felix can throw in the low-90s, because Felix is amazing and his changeup is the best pitch in all of baseball. Walker doesn’t have the best anything in all of anything, so he needs to still be overpowering while he’s young enough to have such an overpowering arm. He has time to develop his offspeed stuff into plus weapons, but he won’t have an opportunity to develop them in the Major Leagues if his limp-wrist fastball is getting crushed left and right.
The offense is what it is. Stop worrying about the offense. Start worrying about how this team is royally fucked if it can’t get its pitching squared away