Look for “Mariners Shit Stains” tomorrow, but I thought I’d kick us off with a little positivity on a Thursday morning.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, my absolute favorite thing about the 2016 Mariners by a million miles is Dae-ho Lee. The sense of pure joy I feel whenever he does something awesome is unmatched by anyone else in all of sports right now (particularly with the retirement of Marshawn Lynch). When the Mariners brought him in, he was in a battle with Jesus Montero for the backup first baseman job, and even though Lee didn’t look all that much better than Montero in Spring Training, I was fully aboard the decision to pick Lee, simply because of the unknown factor. We know what Jesus Montero is, and he hasn’t disappointed me since he was picked up by Toronto (he’s yet to get a call-up from AAA, where he’s doing okay, but isn’t blowing you away with his power, and still doesn’t know how to take a walk). Lee, conversely, at least had some upside, as he came from another professional league where he played at a high level. Ultimately, it’s just baseball; it’s just throwing and catching and hitting and running. Lee’s got the skills, and they’ve transferred beautifully from Korea, to Japan, to now the United States. On top of that, with Lind’s early struggles, Lee has been a godsend! I won’t say I saw this season coming out of Lee – it certainly wouldn’t have shocked me to see him put up Jesus Montero-type numbers, followed by his eventual release – indeed, he’s been probably the most pleasant surprise of the bunch!
I won’t try to rank all my bright spots, so let’s just go down the line. Robinson Cano has bounced back in a big way after an injury-plagued 2015. He’s healthy, and he’s playing to the All Star form that got him his $240 million contract in the first place. With 21 homers, he’s already matched last year’s total. If his slash line holds, this will be his best year since 2012, when he had a .929 OPS and an 8.2 WAR. As it stands right now, his .555 slugging percentage is the best of his career (if he can keep it at that level), and he’s on pace to shatter his season high in homers and extra base hits. Just an all-around stud; 3 years down, 7 to go.
I wonder if people are a little disappointed in Nelson Cruz this year, as it feels like he’s taken a step back compared to his off-the-charts 2015. But, he’s still doing VERY well for himself, and is on track to get back to 40 homers for the third straight year. One thing to watch is that he’s already grounded into 11 double plays; his career high in a season was 17 back in 2014, so that’s certainly not a number you like to top.
Kyle Seager rounds out our Big 3, and boy am I pleased with his season so far! As usual, he got off to an abysmal start, but he’s beyond turned it around. It seems like he always over-corrects like this, only to settle into his usual range of hitting in the .260’s by season’s end, but I dunno. Something tells me his success could easily continue on, if not actually improve by season’s end. A full year under Edgar Martinez, for one, combined with his own sturdy work ethic. You wonder if he’ll tire out – considering he never gets an off day – so if there’s a reason for any late-season decline, I’d say that would have to be it. Nevertheless, he’s on pace to blow away his previous power numbers, already with 18 homers at the break (his career high in a season is 26). One thing to watch with him is that he’s already got 10 errors, which is very unlike him (his career high in a season is 16, which he had last year, which is a downward trend from 2014’s Gold Glove season).
I’m very pleased with Ketel Marte’s progress in his second season in the bigs (and first FULL season). You had to wonder, with his quality 2015, was that just an aberration, like Ackley and Zunino and Montero before him – who all got early call-ups, did well at first, and then regressed HARD? Well, so far, Marte is hitting well (his speed helping pump up those numbers a little bit). He has work to do with taking a walk; hopefully that will advance with experience, as there’s no excuse for a kid this fast to not have a better awareness of the strike zone. Speedy players who can take a walk and steal a base are worth their weight in gold! You also look to see him clean up his mental miscues in the basepaths and in the field with experience as well. But, no real glaring complaints two years into his budding career.
Leonys Martin has been a delight. We’ve been waiting since Guti’s prime for a quality defensive centerfielder to come around, and by God I think we’ve found one! It’s so important to this organization, considering we play half our games in Safeco (and considering we’re perennially saddled with slow-footed corner outfielders). And, while I wasn’t expecting much out of him at the plate, his 11 homers are already a career high in a season! He’s not ideal at the plate – and he’s REALLY not an ideal leadoff hitter – but I love what we’ve gotten out of him so far.
Honorable mention (on the hitting side) goes to Seth Smith and Chris Iannetta. Smith’s work at the plate is exactly what winning teams need. He hits for a solid average, he can take a walk, he’s got some pop, and I don’t know if this is a thing or not, but he seems to be pretty clutch when we need someone to come through. As far as Iannetta is concerned, he’s not leaps & bounds ahead of Zunino at the plate, and I don’t know if he’s necessarily all that much better defensively either, but he’s been a rock so far this season. From the eyeball test, he doesn’t look nearly as lost at the plate as Zunino looked last year, so that’s big. And, while it’s tough to see Clevenger go down the way he did, if and when Zunino returns, it’ll be nice to have him learn from Iannetta. He’s never really had a competent pro to teach him the ropes, so the second half of this season could be huge for Zunino’s development.
On the pitching side of things … hoo boy, it’s a little dodgy.
Edwin Diaz has come out guns blazing, getting the call up direct from AA. 34 strikeouts in 17.2 innings, or just about 2 strikeouts per inning. Unreal! He’s hitting triple digits on the reg, he’s got a wicked slider, and if he keeps this up, he could be closing games in no time. As it is, he’s entering games in the most pressure-packed situations (pre-9th inning variety), and I’ll say it right here: Diaz has been hands down the best reliever on this team this year. Period.
It’s been nice to see Mike Montgomery make good on all his promise. He’s throwing strikes, he’s limiting walks, and he’s done everything this team’s asked him to do. I know, like 99% of professional athletes will do what’s asked of them. But, compare what Montgomery’s done this year to a closer who comes into the game in a non-save situation, and you’ll get what I mean. He’s been fine in relief, in all roles, and just before the break got a spot start with excellent results. He’s in line for at least one more post-break start, and could very well have pitched himself back into the rotation (thanks to his excellence, and to the rest of the rotation’s utter ineptitude).
And, you know what? That’s it. I could write a lot more if I wanted to, but I don’t, because I don’t think any of the other pitchers deserve to be mentioned in this post. You’ll read why tomorrow.