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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

May 31, 2012 at 10:30 AM

A 21-run salute to the resurgent Justin Smoak

smoakhr.jpg

(Photo by Getty Images)

(Here’s a good compilation of notes regarding yesterday’s Mariners’ offensive uprising, put together by the Mariners’ PR staff).

For once, it’s time to praise Justin Smoak, not to bury him.

When Smoak went 0-for-3 against the Tigers on May 9 at Safeco Field, it dropped his average to .173. His on-base percentage was .229. He was slugging .264. His OPS was .492 — 33 games into the season. Obviously, unacceptable across the board. The burning question was whether or not Smoak should go down to Tacoma. He had already lost his cleanup spot. Certainly, his spot as a regular was in legitimate danger.

Manager Eric Wedge stood behind Smoak, and so did Jack Zduriencik. Whether or not it was part wishful thinking, who knows, but now they are being vindicated. I’m not going to declare Smoak “cured”, and obviously the sample size is small, but the results of the last three weeks are highly encouraging, a needed glimpse of the Smoak potential that was being to slip out of our memory bank.

Starting on May 11, when he went 3-for-4 against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, Smoak is hitting .319 over his last 18 games (23-for-72). His on-base percentage is .355. He’s slugging .597, with six homers (one every 12 at-bats). His OPS is .952. Suddenly, Smoak’s season projects to 28 homers and 83 RBI, which I’d bet every Mariner fan would sign up for right now. Last night’s two-homer, six-RBI performance in the Mariners’ 21-8 rout was downright majestic.

Here comes the caution flag: Smoak’s overall numbers are still highly mediocre: .231/.278/.396 (.674 OPS). Three hot weeks does not a revival make. And like virtually the entire team, he still has to show he can hit at Safeco Field, where he is hitting .188/.233/.319 (.552), compared to .257/.306/.442 (.748) on the road.

But Smoak desperately needed to show skeptics – – and show himself — a glimpse of the guy whom the Mariners envision as one of the centerpieces of their lineup moving forward, the guy who was the key to the Cliff Lee trade. And we have seen big flashes of that potential in recent days. A revived Smoak certainly offers Eric Wedge much more palatable lineup options. A 3-4-5 of Kyle Seager, Jesus Montero and Smoak is something to feel pretty good about, if he can approximate the version of Smoak we’re seeing now.

So let’s not get too giddy here. Two-thirds of the season still remain, and this hot streak might become a distant memory if Smoak regresses. But consider the heat he had been taking, Smoak deserves credit for pulling himself out of a slump many thought would bury him.

Here is a poll from seattletimes.com:

Has the Mariners’ Justin Smoak turned things around at the plate?

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