Don’t forget to catch my Talkin’ Baseball segment, coming up at 8:30 a.m. today on KJR AM 950’s Mitch in the Morning show.
That was a heartbreaker last night, unless you happened to be cheering for the White Sox. No other way of looking at it. Strangely enough, the culprit. as opposed to closer David Aardsma, was really an offense that failed to generate more than one run before the fateful ninth inning collapse that did Seattle in.
And I say “strangely” because, though the offense has been the chief source of anxiety this season, things had changed since the July 31 trade deadline. The Mariners were expected to pretty much roll over and die after dealing away Jarrod Washburn. That’s because the starting pitchers had been what had kept this team alive all season despite the anemic bats. But with Washburn gone and Erik Bedard shelved by injury, the Mariners appeared ripe for a collapse.
And yet, despite some woeful starting efforts, not including the excellent debut by Doug Fister last night, the Mariners found themselves with a 6-3 record in August as of yesterday. They were very nearly 7-3 for the month. This isn’t all the Royals. They took two of three from a good Tampa Bay team and appeared to have the White Sox all wrapped up and delivered until Aardsma’s blown save.
So, what gives? The offense, that’s what.
Heading into last night’s game, the Mariners had averaged the most runs per game in the American League this month. That’s right, 57 runs in nine games for a 6.33 average per contest.
Seattle managed this largely because of a league-best .368 on-base-percentage (OBP) for the month, helping the M’s to an .853 on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) that stood third-highest in the AL.
We spoke earlier last month, right around the All-Star Break, about how the additions of guys like Jack Hannahan and Ryan Langerhans seemed to be helping the Mariners drive up their on-base numbers compared to earlier this season.
Well, the Mariners now have left fielder Michael Saunders as well, and he’s riding a .448 OBP for the month. That helps. Especially when Langerhans is the guy you spell him with for a game or two. Makes you forget Wladimir Balentien in a hurry.
Then, there’s second baseman Jose Lopez, swinging the bat we all thought we’d see in April and May. His OBP is at .357 in August with a .512 slugging percentage.
Rob Johnson had been on a tear, until coming up a bit sore. He’s at a .462 on-base percentage and a .940 OPS in August. You’ll take that from a catcher any day.
Yeah, Russell Branyan has struggled, but shown just enough power to keep his spot from dropping off a cliff. And while Branyan has stumbled, Ken Griffey Jr. had picked it up this month at .406 in on-base numbers and .962 in OPS.
Ichiro is Ichiro and Franklin Gutierrez has kept up his strong pace as well.
Adrian Beltre is back producing decent numbers, but not better than Hannahan had been putting up before he returned.
Jack Wilson has been an ever-so-slight offensive upgrade over Ronny Cedeno, but not much. (100 points of OPS from the low .500s to the low .600s is of minimal impact). And still, this team is taking off offensively. At least, until last night.
This has to rank as a positive sign for the team going forward. Especially if Saunders can continue to hit for decent numbers and if Johnson’s swing has come around to stay. Nobody expects them to keep these numbers up. But if they can put up decent on-base numbers, this team’s future looks a whole lot brighter at the plate than it did back in June.
That horrific Johnson-Cedeno-Chris Woodward tandem at catcher, shortstop and third base back in early July has at least been dealt with. With two of those three replaced and Johnson now hitting more consistently, there is no longer a National League style black hole in the bottom third of the order. You expect Wilson to pick up his offense to some degree eventually as well. He’s better than his .606 OPS for the month so far.
Griffey’s recent hot streak shows what the DH position is supposed to look like. Get this type of production year-round — or at least something close to it — and the runs will start to score.
In other words, this offense now has some balance to it. Some depth.
And that matters.
It matters more than what this starting rotation is doing right now. As expected, a Mariners group of starters that had been some of the best in baseball have dropped to third-worst in the AL in innings-pitched since the Washburn deal and had a 5.77 ERA for the month heading into last night. It’s not all Washburn, but without a healthy Bedard and the revolving door of fledgling arms, the rotation did not stand much of a chance of carrying this club the way it once did.
The Mariners are currently sending out Felix Hernandez and four No. 4 and No. 5 types — at least performance-wise. We’ll see what Ian Snell does from here. .
But once this team moves forward, with hopes of contending deep into September every year, it will theoretically have a solid No. 2 and No. 3 starter, whether it’s Snell, or Brandon Morrow, or a free-agent or two filling those voids.
You’re not going to see Morrow, Luke French, Jason Vargas, Ryan Rowland-Smith, Doug Fister, Garrett Olson and company all breaking camp in the rotation next spring. The best of the lot will round out a few spots and the rest will be in Class AAA or the bullpen or with another team. The rotation will be solidified from what it now looks like.
And the offense should be something a little closer to what it now looks like than what it did earlier this year when only two or three guys were hitting at all.
The Mariners now see players who can take pitches, work counts and hit the hittable pitches up and down the order. There are still some free-swingers, but that’s OK. As long as there aren’t nine of them. This is still a work-in-progress, but you see the makings of something.
And combine that with the pitching this team had up until about a week before the trade deadline, it would be a force to be reckoned with. In any event, it’s been interesting to watch this new-look roster take shape. Much more interesting than many people, myself included, thought it might be these final two months of the season. Let’s see whether it can continue.