I’ve moaned and groaned about it before, rooting for the Seattle Mariners has been infuriating for about a decade now. In our best sardonic manner, many of us watching the M’s have bet money that runners in scoring position with less than two outs would not score. Often we were right, much to our own dismay. Other times, we might conjecture how few runs the offense would score to support Felix Hernandez.
All of this behavior was a coping mechanism, as hope for meaningful October baseball in the Emerald City was often dashed by July. Much of our derision landed upon the big, shiny dome of former GM Jack Zduriencik and his inability to assemble a contender.
Then, this last offseason, Jack Z was relieved of his duties and in stepped Jerry Dipoto. Now, I couldn’t vouch for Dipoto’s level of acumen based on his tenure with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, but at least he understands on-base percentage. Maybe he actually read Moneyball? Probably still more than Zduriencik can put on his curriculum vitae.
So, Dipoto wanted to get more athletic and more proficient at getting on base. Sounded like a decent, simple, implementable plan. Hope was brewing during the offseason. That would be complemented by an approach to “Control the Zone,” which is simply to strive for better walk and strikeout rates. Unless it’s unclear, that means to walk more and strikeout less, as far as Seattle batters are concerned. Duh!
Yet, being a hesitantly hopeful fan — also due to rooting for the Boston Red Sox — I wasn’t totally sold on acquisitions like Nori Aoki, Leonys Martin, Chris Iannetta and Adam Lind.
While nobody has blown me out of the water, Aoki, Martin, and Iannetta have been pleasant additions — so far, I’m still ‘right’ about Lind. Iannetta will never be Mike Piazza, but his OPS+ of 109 is 21 points higher than Mike Zunino’s career high. That’s not meant to slight Zunino — the organization clearly mishandled him.
So, let’s look at some encouraging trends here in the first sixth of the season. And yes, I know that it is still on the small sample size of things, but give me a break, this is the Mariners we’re talking about.
Yesterday, they completed a three-game sweep of the rival Oakland Athletics, returning the favor from the first weekend of the season. With that victory, the Mariners have won 14 of their last 19 games, good for six straight series victories. Before the sweep in Oaktown, the M’s were victorious over the Kansas City Royals, Houston Astros, Angels, Cleveland Indians, and New York Yankees. That makes seven series wins out of their first nine.
Seattle has the American League’s best Run Differential at +32. The Chicago White Sox — who are white hot at 19-10 — have a +21 and the Red Sox sit at +26. Scoring more runs than they allow correlates directly to having the AL’s second best winning percentage at .607. Chicago’s blistering start (.655 win percentage) puts everybody in the dust. The M’s actually have offense?!? Am I dreaming?
On the pitching side of things, the M’s look even better — even including the A’s hanging a six-spot on Felix yesterday. Seattle’s staff owns the second best team ERA and WHIP in the AL, 3.04 and 1.15 respectively. Of course, the White Sox lead the league at 2.83 and 1.17. Basically, they’re hanging tough with a team that is getting what seems to be significantly better national coverage.
How about that Control the Zone philosophy? Well, according to Lookout Landing, things are quickly improving compared to previous years.
The improved offensive efficiency is still hampered by some slow starts, I might add. Kyle Seager has been steadily climbing out of a big hole below the Mendoza Line — with a triple in the top of the second moments ago, he’s exactly at a .200 average. Seager has added 73 points to his average since April 23. Again, small sample size, but encouraging.
Leonys Martin is also hitting just .200, but his stellar defense keeps him in the everyday lineup, for sure.
Seeing as that he saved Steve Cishek with that catch there, let’s touch on the new closer, shall we? As I talked about recently, I was concerned about having a bullpen with little-to-no flamethrowers.
That concern extended to Cishek, who tops out at 92 mph on his fastball. Cishek throws a ton of curves — 45 percent in April according to Brooks Baseball — and all that soft stuff makes me nervous when batters are used to facing bullpen guys who confuse radar guns. I must just be an anxious worry-wart, because Cishek has eight saves (second most among AL relievers) with a 0.69 ERA. In 13.0 IP, Cishek has 14 strikeouts and only 4 walks, a pretty good ratio of 3.50 K:BB.
Of course, it’s always nice to have slick defenders behind you like Seager, Robinson Cano, and Ketel Marte. Marte is quickly becoming one of my favorite Mariners. He doesn’t hit for much power, but has been a consistent bat in the lineup. His defense is just sick.
— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) May 4, 2016
Even though it’s early, Marte has two Defensive Runs Saved. For some context, there are two shortstops in the AL who are widely considered superior to Marte. Their names are Francisco Lindor and Carlos Correa. Lindor has one DRS and Correa’s drowning at a negative six.
Lastly, it’s nice to have a healthy Cano (.918 OPS with nine home runs and 30 RBIs) to complement Nelson Cruz. Cruz just keeps hitting absolute crowd-pleasing bombs, as evidenced by yesterday’s shot at O.co.
Check out where that landed (it’s fun)!
— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) May 5, 2016
I know it’s early to start waiting in line for playoff tickets — hell, we just need to make it through July with a winning record first — but there is a lot to start being hopeful for.
We’ll see where we’re at on June 1.