SEATTLE MARINERS UPDATE!
As if any of you out there besides me really care, I'm providing an update on how my Seattle Mariners team is doing this season.
The ball club entered the season with low expectations. After a horrendous 2010 season in which they won 61 games and lost 101, nobody expected them to be any good at all this year.
Well, they are still not very good, but as of today they have managed to win more games than they have lost, and over their last 34 games they have won 22 and lost 12... the best mark in the major leagues over that period.
What has been working for the Mariners for them to exceed expectations as they have thus far in 2011?
General Manager Jack Zduriencik, known simply as "Z" to lots of Mariners fans, brought in some bargain-basement scrap-heap types of players during the off-season, and so far they have been improvements over players used in 2010.
New catcher Miguel Olivo, signed as a free agent, has mediocre hitting stats (a .251 batting average, 6 homers, 23 runs batted in), but last year catchers Adam Moore and Rob Johnson batted .195 and .191 respectively and had 6 homers between them for the entire year. Olivo has decent game-calling skills too, as the Mariners have one of the best starting rotations in the majors.
New designated hitter Jack Cust, also signed as a free agent, has had some struggles in regard to hitting for power, but he gets on base at a decent clip and his bat shows signs of waking up. Compared to the Mariners' output from people used at DH last season, Cust may not be an improvement yet, but he is not worse than what they had in 2010.
Shortstop Brendan Ryan, who came to the M's from St. Louis in a trade, has a brilliant glove. He makes some amazing plays and he anchors the infield defense. He has also shown he can put together a good hitting streak, and while being a .260 hitter is nothing to brag about, he is showing he can at least do this consistently. Compared to journeyman Josh Wilson, a guy the M's used extensively at SS in 2010, Ryan is a revelation, both in the field and at the plate. Plus, he is a lovable oddball kind of quirky guy who gives great interviews and who can invigorate the clubhouse.
Another revelation is young first baseman Justin Smoak. Smoak arrived in Seattle mid-season last year when the Mariners traded star pitcher Cliff Lee to the Texas Rangers for young players. Smoak struggled mightily with the Mariners last year but this year he is 10th in the majors with 10 homers, and he has driven in 34 runs so far while playing a good 1B. Last year's first baseman Casey Kotchman only had 9 home runs all year, and batted just .217.
Ichiro Suzuki, the ever-dependable right fielder, has been in a slump. While the team has won 13 of its last 17 games, Ichi is 11 for his last 69. I am hoping this is just a bad slump, and that he can work his way out of it. He is 37 years old, and while he could be in the twilight of his career, he stays in great shape and has a good outlook toward the game. The team is winning games in spite of him being in a slump, so the more he can snap out of it, the better the team will get.
Same thing with Chone Figgins, the third baseman. Figgins has never been what the Mariners imagined he would be when they signed him as a free agent a couple of winters ago. He got into a fight with then-manager Don Wakamatsu last season, he tends to sulk, he is sort of a prima donna. I am hoping the team will trade Figgins and his poor attitude and his lousy .184 batting average.
Who would replace Figgins at 3B? Possibly journeyman Adam Kennedy, another scrap-heap type of player that "Z" signed during the winter. Kennedy plays all the infield positions, and at the moment he leads the M's with a .293 batting average. He has provided the ball club with a good, steady, reliable veteran presence, and he has been a big part of the team's improved play.
Center fielder Franklin Gutierrez is one of the best fielders in the game, and he has shown in the past that he has an adequate bat. This year he is off to a slow start with the hitting due to having problems with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. This plagued him last year too, but went undiagnosed until this spring. After missing the first month or so of the season while recuperating and adjusting, he is back with the M's. He is struggling at the plate so far, but once he regains more of his strength he should be dependable with the hitting as well as the fielding.
Left field has been a black hole for the team thus far on offense. Young Michael Saunders, another excellent fielder, was expected to fill the hole but he only batted .168 over 45 games and got sent to the minor leagues to work on his hitting. Another youngster, big Carlos Peguero, has shared LF with veteran minor leaguer Mike Wilson. Peguero is learning on the job, as he is trying to find ways to be a more disciplined hitter. If nothing else, when he does hit a home run the ball travels a long ways. He may not be the Mariners' left fielder of the future, but he is fun to watch.
The starting pitching has been some of the major leagues' best. Felix Hernandez, Jason Vargas and Doug Fister have all been doing great jobs. Rookie Michael Pineda has been amazing so far. And maybe best of all, the seemingly-always-injured Erik Bedard appears to be healthy for a change, and after several long stints on the disabled list and a shoulder surgery, he is finally pitching like the guy the Mariners thought they were getting when they traded for him a few years ago. The bullpen is good, led by closer Brandon League, who weathered a horrible 4-game slump a while back and has basically been "lights-out" in the 9th inning. Backing him up are several scrap-heap guys who have risen to the challenge in fantastic fashion: Jamey Wright (1.75 ERA), Aaron Laffey (2.05) and David Pauley (0.76).
So as of today the team has won 30 games and lost 28. Not great, but not bad by any measure. What happens next?
They have a potentially phenomenal young player named Dustin Ackley who is now playing second base for their AAA affiliate, the Tacoma Rainiers. Expect the Mariners to call up Ackley at some point during the next month and to trade current backup second baseman Jack Wilson.
Expect the M's to aggressively shop Chone Figgins, and if they find someone to trade him to, look for them to move Adam Kennedy to third base and for Ackley to assume the second base job.
If the team is still near the top of the American League West division in a month or so, look for "Z" to make a trade or two to bolster areas of the lineup where the hitting is weak. If Jack Cust doesn't hit more, we may see a trade for someone who could be a more capable designated hitter.
Finally, in baseball's draft of players tomorrow, I expect Seattle to choose third baseman Anthony Rendon of Rice University. He has had some injuries during the past year, but he is one of the best athletes available in the draft, and according to most scouts he is close to being ready for the major leagues, maybe close enough to have an impact next season. They may also draft high-school phenom infielder Francisco Lindor from California, but I expect it's either Rendon or Lindor.
So, these are just some of the many reasons why this year's team, despite a continued difficulty scoring runs, is way superior to the bunch the franchise employed in 2010.
My prediction for the Mariners was originally 75 wins and 87 losses. Now I think it will be more like in a range from 78 wins and 84 losses to maybe as high as 84 wins and 78 losses. That won't be good enough for them to win their division, but it might be good for second or third place. Certainly not LAST PLACE again! Heh!