Mariners Finished Sour First Half On Upbeat Note

There’s a lot to like about yesterday’s 4-0 shutout of the A’s to salvage a split of the 4-game series.  Dyson and Ruiz – representing the bottom of the order – got 5 hits, with a run and an RBI combined.  Nelson Cruz hit a 2-run bomb to give him 3 homers in the last week, and 17 on the season.  Robbie Cano hit a double and scored a run.  Felix Hernandez pitched 6 shutout innings, giving up 2 hits, walking 3, and striking out 8.  Vincent and Zych finished a SUPERB first half with a couple scoreless innings.  And, Edwin Diaz bounced back after taking the L on Saturday, striking out 2 in his inning of work.

The win brought the Mariners to 43-47, with 72 games remaining in the second half.  We’re currently 4th in the A.L. West, a game behind both Texas and Anaheim (17.5 games behind the insane Astros).  Yet, we’re only 4 games back in the Wild Card race, right in the middle of the pack (even the worst A.L. team is only 7.5 games back, so it’s not like anyone is really “out of it”).  Once we get through the All Star Break, there will be two and a half weeks of baseball before the July 31st Trade Deadline.  Will the Mariners be buyers, sellers, or nothing?  Well, we’ll see.

Starting this weekend, the M’s go on the road to play the White Sox, where we ALWAYS LOSE.  Then, we face the Astros, Yankees, and Red Sox; sissy-boy loser time is over.  Those are some serious opponents the Mariners are going to have to face to try to climb back over .500; if they continue to play like they have these last two weeks, I don’t see a lot of hope for this season (particularly when you consider the brutal stretch of road games in August).

The question we have to ask ourselves is:  can the Mariners do it as is?

I know Jerry Dipoto said he’s going to be listening to what’s out there offered in trades, but we have to assume for now that he won’t be able to get a deal done (otherwise the variables are just too vast; this blog post would be 50,000 words long).  I’m thinking, even if he does get a trade done, it won’t be for some huge piece.  We’re not going to see a Rent-An-Ace situation because A) I don’t believe we have the prospects to bring one to Seattle, B) I don’t think the M’s want to take on that kind of payroll, and C) I don’t think the M’s are in a Win-Now-At-All-Costs mode.  Now, whether they SHOULD be in that mode is another issue; I think they like the core they’ve got, and they think they can compete for years to come with some of the young talent they’ve brought in and developed.  At best, maybe the M’s bring in another under-the-radar reliever to help boost the bullpen, or maybe a solid, veteran, back-of-the-rotation starter to help shore up the rotation.

But, you know, like I said, for the sake of argument let’s hold off on speculating on that until it happens.  Let’s take a look at the roster as it is right now.

I thought Ryan Divish made a good point on the radio last week when he talked about how this pitching staff is holding this team back.  Pretty much, every game (save a dominant Paxton start here and there), you go into it expecting these starters to give up a minimum of 2-3 runs per outing.  That’s on top of whatever happens with the bullpen.  But, it’s like the hitters have to go into every game needing to score 4+ runs to win, and that’s got to be a mental drain after a while.

Yeah, sometimes these hitters look unstoppable; but sometimes these hitters look really bad, and it’s a rare instance where the entire pitching staff is capable of picking them up.

I think we’re all pretty happy with what Paxton has brought to the table this season.  Obviously, it wasn’t helpful that he missed damn near the entire month of May, and that was reflected in his sub-par June, but he’s looked a lot better in the last three starts, so hopefully he can keep that going the rest of the way.  Really, if this team is going to truly contend for a playoff spot, he’s going to NEED to keep this going the rest of the way.  He’s 7-3 with a 3.21 ERA at the break; just give me that (or maybe a little bit better) the rest of the way and I’ll be happy.

I think we’re all justifiably concerned with what we’ve seen from King Felix not just this season, but the last 2-3 years.  He still hasn’t quite morphed into that Pitch To Contact guy he probably needs to be to prolong the prime of his career.  No, the fastball isn’t ideal, but more than that he’s simply missing his spots.  Batters are less likely to chase his stuff out of the zone, and when he comes in for a strike it’s getting clobbered.  It’s taken him until July 9th – against a terrible-hitting A’s team – to finally throw an outing of all zeroes on the scoreboard.  These types of 6- or 7-inning, 0-run games used to be a much more regular occurrence; that one might be the only one we see all year and it wouldn’t shock me!  I just don’t know what to make of the King anymore.  It’s like he knows what he needs to become, but he’s fighting against it (fighting with himself).  At this point, it would be irresponsible to have high expectations for him the rest of the way.  I’m just hoping he can give us what Iwakuma gave us last year (which would be nice, since it looks like Iwakuma is going to be a longshot to return from injury after being shutdown in his rehab multiple times).

Up next, we’ve got Ariel Miranda; who expected him to be the second- or third-best starter in this rotation heading into the season?  At this point in his development, I just want him to continue doing what he’s been doing.  He’s not an Ace, but he’s been healthy and he’s been good more than not; just keep doing that!

In the 4-hole, there’s Andrew Moore, who is all of three games into his Major League career.  All three of his starts have been what you would call Quality Starts (at least 6 innings and 3 runs or less every time), but he’s also given up 5 home runs in those three games.  That is … less than ideal.  That also might just be his game.  He’s not what I would consider a phenom, even though he’s young and has shot through the minor league ranks; but he throws strikes, limits walks, and generally keeps the damage to a minimum.  How well will he continue to do once the league has a book on him and starts making their adjustments?  The Mariners can’t really afford to have a lot of growing pains out of him if they expect to make it to the post-season.

In the fifth starter spot, the Mariners have some options.  Sam Gaviglio has been the guy since being called up as an injury-replacement, but his last start was pretty bad, and really overall he’s Just A Guy.  Yovani Gallardo has been pretty fantastic in his long reliever role, which has a lot of people wondering if he’s destined to return to the rotation at some point.  Has he worked out – mechanically – what was so wrong with him early in games in his starts?  What if it’s just a matter of throwing more or less warm-up pitches before he goes out there?  Or what if we just don’t tell him which days he’s going to start, and spring it on him 30 minutes before gametime?

Overall, this is a far-from-intimidating rotation; really just an Ace with four #5 starters.  And, honestly, I don’t know if there would be much out there available in trade besides some other team’s #5 starter, so we is what we is.  And ultimately, that’s probably what’s going to keep us out of the post-season.

The bullpen has been pretty mediocre as well, but I don’t know if I would put as much of the blame on them.  There are plenty of bright spots, like Nick Vincent, Tony Zych, James Pazos, and Scrabble.  Steve Cishek looks like he’s rounding into form after coming back from injury.  Edwin Diaz has had some shaky outings, but looks like he’s getting a handle on things.  Right there, that’s six guys I’m more or less okay with.  Emilio Pagan hasn’t really gotten the chances I think he deserves, but he seems to be more steady than Dan Ayala-tavilla.  Then, there’s the revolving door of long relievers between Seattle and Tacoma who won’t make-or-break you.  I think that’s an okay unit!  Maybe even a good one if guys start getting on rolls!

Same thing can be said for the hitting and defense.  The outfield has out-performed even my wildest dreams.  Cruz and Cano are banged up but doing a pretty good job playing through it.  Valencia bounced back in a big way to play to the back of his baseball card.  Zunino had that insane month of June that might more-or-less salvage his season if he doesn’t backslide too far in July.  Seager is definitely taking a step back this season, but I have to believe he’s got a torrid streak in him coming up.  Overall, in the American League, the Mariners are in the Top 5 in runs scored, average, and on-base percentage.  They’ve taken a substantial step back in their power numbers from a year ago, but they’re also capable of making that up and getting into the upper half of the league by season’s end.

Ultimately, I think that’s what it’s going to take.  These Mariners need to have a power surge and carry this team offensively through the next two and a half months.  With that, an improved bullpen, and a carefully maintained starting rotation, this thing just might take us into the final weekend of the season with a chance.

That’s all I ask, Mariners.  Just give yourselves a chance in the final weekend.  Then, let the chips fall where they may.

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