At some point, I’m going to hop on here and talk about all the ways this thing can fall apart for the Mariners. There’s a number of hitters who could easily take steps back for one reason or another, our starting pitching was unsustainably healthy last year, and our bullpen has been remarkably fortunate and could fall apart for no good reason whatsoever outside of sheer randomness.
Today’s not going to be that day. See, a lot of that is just me being overly worried. We finally broke back into the playoffs, and now it feels like we’re due for a setback. Expectations are through the roof, which is always when the Mariners let us down the most. You can set your watch to it. On paper, most experts agree this is a team that should once again contend for a wild card spot. So, you really have to dig deep to magnify the flaws on this roster to the point where we fall on our faces.
That being said, I don’t think it takes very much digging whatsoever to point out that the bottom three hitters projected to play regularly heading into April are going to drag this team down with them.
If we choose to look on the bright side, there should be six quality hitters in this lineup (eventually, I’ll write a separate post talking about all the flaws among everyone). You have to figure Julio and Raleigh are excellent young players; Ty France is solid when healthy; Suarez has his power and should benefit from less shifting; Teoscar Hernandez is an already-good player who figures to be hyper-motivated as he’s heading into his first stint with free agency; and Wong is a veteran bat who should be fine as long as he’s healthy.
Just because those are the six hitters I think will be the ones we don’t have to worry about, doesn’t mean I’m right. Any one of those guys could easily suck. Conversely, among the batters I’m about to trash, I think the odds are just as good that one of them surprises us in a positive way. But, for the sake of this post, I think the top six in our lineup is going to be fine, and it’s going to look something like this:
- Julio – CF (R)
- Wong – 2B (L)
- Hernandez – RF (R)
- France – 1B (R)
- Suarez – 3B (R)
- Raleigh – C (S)
Our three weakest spots in the lineup are going to be Short Stop, Left Field, and DH.
We kinda know what we’re going to get with J.P. Crawford at this point. He’s going to get on base a little over 1/3 of the time. That’s fine. He was one of the least shifted-against Mariners the last couple years, so I don’t think he’s going to get much of a boost from the rules changes. He’s streaky. With very little power. So, when his BABIP is good, his slash line will look good. When the balls he hits find gloves, he’s going to look like one of the worst hitters in the league. The only hope for him is that all his offseason work with Driveline has improved his approach at the plate. His elongated swing tends to get exposed by superior pitching, and if that hasn’t been corrected in any sort of meaningful way, it’s only going to lead to more strikeouts and weak contact. At least we don’t need him at the top of the order anymore. Getting to hide him down towards the bottom will take some pressure off, while at the same time give us some speed – if and when he does get on base – for our superior hitters at the top of the lineup.
The left field spot is well-worn territory at this point, but it bears repeating, since we’re banking a big chunk of our season’s hopes on the combination of A.J. Pollock and Jarred Kelenic. What needs to be said about Kelenic that hasn’t already been said? He’s young, and so far he’s been a terrible hitter. He could, obviously, blossom this year with reduced expectations, a spot at the bottom of the order, and the elimination of the shift that has so gobbled up many of his would-be hits. But, the Pollock piece of this remains under-complained about. He was abysmal last year! People have brushed that aside by saying he’s going to play primarily against lefties, but as I’ve said before, lefties only comprise about a quarter of the pitchers in baseball. He’s still going to get his share of at bats against righties, especially if Kelenic struggles (which, odds are he will). Not only that, but given how our bench is shaping up, we could see Pollock and Kelenic in the same lineup (with Pollock being a DH).
Let’s not beat around the bush here, though, because the DH has been a disaster for this team … pretty much since Edgar retired. I’ve already talked about how Dylan Moore is going to factor heavily into this team (cemented by the fact that he just signed a guaranteed contract to buy out his Arb years). Moore probably won’t DH a ton, but he’ll play in the field for guys getting rest days as the DH, so that makes him our de facto DH. I would also wager that Tom Murphy and/or Cal Raleigh will get their share of DH stints (when the other is starting at catcher), to infuse some additional power on occasion. We’ll see what Murphy has left in the tank after a few injury-plagued seasons. Then, there’s Haggerty, who was a fun story last year, but is coming off of an injury that happened towards the very end of our season. He’s also no guarantee to be effective the more the rest of the league gets a book on him. And, as I just wrote about, I don’t know who our 13th position player will be, but Tommy La Stella looks like the odds-on favorite, and he’s fucking garbage.
I don’t want to say that the season hinges on Jarred Kelenic starting to reach his full potential, but that could make all of our lives A LOT easier. There’s a massive black hole in the bottom third of our lineup that figures to be filled with – at best – Replacement Level hitters. But, if Kelenic were to pan out (which, officially I no longer believe will be the case), that could really take our team to new heights. All of a sudden, you’ve got seven quality bats in the lineup, with adequate production out of Crawford, and whatever you get from the DH slot from Moore, Murphy, et al. A competent Kelenic hitting somewhere around .250, hitting 20+ homers, could be all the difference between this team winning 86 games and 96 games. I know the math doesn’t work out from a WAR perspective, but not totally blowing it every time we get to the bottom of the order has a cumulative effect that – if everything else pans out the way we think it should – would make us quite formidable. You get no innings off with a lineup like that. Combined with our elite pitching, it could very well put us in line to compete for the division.
However, if Kelenic continues to let us down, and the rest of these guys can’t get out of their own way, it’s going to take everything we have just to remain in contention through the trade deadline. Where I’m assuming we’re going to need an impact bat, if we want to get back to the playoffs.
It’s just too bad we didn’t get that bat heading into the season, when all of this was blatantly obvious to anyone with eyes.