Here’s today’s Mariner minor-league report, with news of another strong start by Taijuan Walker.
The Mariners just announced that Tacoma manager Daren Brown will be joining the team in Toronto as an extra coach, essentially filling in for third-base coach Jeff Datz while he’s being treated for cancer. John Stearns, the Mariners’ minor-league catching coordinator, had been slated for that role, and in fact coached third the past three games against Baltimore. Stearns, however, will now take over as the manager of Tacoma. Brown managed the Mariners for the final 40 games of the 2010 season after John McLaren was fired.
The stereotype is still ingrained in the consciousness of baseball fans: the Seattle Mariners can’t hit. Feeble offense. Poorly constructed. Filled with busts. Spring-training mirage.
Those perceptions are well-earned, mind you. For the past three seasons, the Mariners have been the worst hitting team imaginable. No need to go over the numbers — you all know how it was. And that image was reinforced by the early part of this season, in which the Mariners quickly sank to the bottom of MLB in just about every offensive measurable. The young core of Jesus Montero, Dustin Ackley and Justin Smoak looked, once again, like they were hopelessly overmatched by major-league pitching. A “here we go again” vibe definitely settled in.
But Dick Fain on KJR made a good point today: What if the Mariners’ season had started with the homestand that just concluded? One in which they hit .302 as a team, pounded out 18 extra-base hits in seven games, had double-digit hits in six of them, and won five out of seven. Coming off a Cactus League season in which the M’s hit 58 homers in 33 games, the Mariners would be pegged as a team on the rise, one which had been fortified by the additions of Michael Morse and Kendrys Morales in the middle of the order and the shrewd decision to keep Jason Bay over Casper Wells, with the young core looking like they were finally on the verge of breaking out.
Here’s what we would have to go on:
- Dustin Ackley hitting .300
- Justin Smoak getting on base at a .423 clip and putting up a solid .852 OPS, ripping doubles in three straight games to end the homestand
- Jesus Montero up among the big boys with a .990 OPS, including a homer and triple
- Kendrys Morales hitting .308
- Michael Morse ripping three homers and slugging at a Ruthian .696 clip
- Jason Bay hitting a scorching .450 with a 1.178 OPS.
- Michael Saunders coming off the DL to spark the offense from the top of the order, scoring five runs in three games with little ball (the team’s first bunt single of the year, his fourth stolen base in four attempts) and long ball (a homer on his first swing).
- Kyle Seager hitting .300.
We’d also be saying that the Mariners sure knew what they were doing in moving the fences in, because their hitters clearly were in a much better frame of mind about hitting at home, as evidenced by the results.
These perceptions, of course, are as premature as the ones that preceded them — more so, because it’s an even smaller sample size. But at least the homestand provided some hope that the insistence of Eric Wedge and Jack Zduriencik that this team was better than it had shown were not completely wishful thinking. There is now a body of work — small though it is — in which the blueprint actually worked as planned.
Yes, you could nitpick (no extra-base hits or RBIs for Ackley on the homestand, no homers or RBIs for Smoak, big offensive struggles for Raul Ibanez, Brendan Ryan and Robert Andino). And you can’t just pretend that the first 23 games didn’t happen. Those were real games, exposing real potential problems — ones that can’t be declared cured by one hot homestand.
But it’s early enough in the season that the Mariners still have a chance to change the perception of their offense, and convince people that they’re not going to be hopeless forever. How are they going to do that? By doing what they just did in seven games for a lot longer.