May 2, 2013 at 8:22 AM
Mariners look to have finally kicked 2013 into gear
Now, that was how a homestand is supposed to look for a half decent team. The Mariners spent much of April pretending things hadn’t changed much since 2010-2012 on offense, but then, after things hit a crisis point following their last road trip, they kicked it into gear their last seven games at Safeco Field against some good opponents.
We spoke after the Angels series about how the Mariners were putting the fundamentals together on offense and appeared to be merely having some luck problems when it came to runners in scoring position. Well, they aren’t completely over that issue, but logic dictates that if you keep putting runners on base and getting them into position to score, you will eventually start knocking them in.
And the Mariners have kept putting runners on base. A week ago, they came home from Texas with their season reeling and some jobs appearing to be at stake in the coaching ranks and front office if things continued. Well, they did not continue. In fact, this is now looking every bit like the offense it was supposed to be when the season opened.
Over the last week, the Mariners have hit .302, put up an on-base percentage (OBP) of .372, a slugging mark of .457 and an OPS of .829. Do that over an entire season, we can start buying playoff tickets now.
Of course, I don’t expect that pace to continue. The Mariners would have the No. 1 offense in baseball if they did that.
But I do expect that the team can do much, much better than the bottom third offensive ranking it has held in baseball since, well…a long time. Since before it came home from that last road trip.
Here’s the thing. Even with that .829 OPS over the past week, the team still stranded nearly nine runners per game and averaged only 4.3 runs per contest. In other words, that 5-2 mark on the homestand wasn’t a fluke. The Mariners should have won the majority of the games, considering they averaged only three runs per contest given up.
This team should be scoring more, given the fundamentals it keeps positing in terms of OBP and slugging and combined OPS.
And we started to see that against the Orioles, with games of six and then eight runs last night.
The big difference for the team now?
I see two things.
First, you have Michael Saunders back from injury. And second, you have Michael Morse back from injury.
As a blog post at Seattle Sports Insider pointed out the other day, the big problem for the Mariners when their offense was missing some pieces was that the lineup was filled with guys that couldn’t hit. A big factor was Raul Ibanez being thrust into an everyday outfield role that he is clearly no longer suited for.
I don’t care that Morse has been playing the past two-plus weeks. He didn’t start looking the same until last weekend after coming back very quickly from that broken finger.
Throw those two guys into your lineup of nine and now, you’ve got four starting regulars with an OPS+ (park weighted OPS) that is well above league average in Saunders, Morse, Kendrys Morales and Kyle Seager. Last year, you only had Saunders and Seager with above average among regulars (not as good as their numbers this year, mind you), so that’s twice the number of impact performers and it’s starting to show.
The Mariners are also getting above average offense from their bench, as they did last year with John Jaso. The difference this year is, Kelly Shoppach and Jason Bay are both delivering above average numbers in reserve rolls. Endy Chavez isn’t quite a league average hitter, but he’s at least serviceable as the emergency center fielder.
So, clearly, this is a better team than we’ve seen in a while. A team that has pulled its season off the brink with plenty of time to spare and which should continue to win consistently as long as it can avoid injury to key personnel and maintain the expected performance levels it is only now delivering with some consistency.
Again, at the risk of repeating myself, it would help if some of the young core emerged as above average OPS bats.
Justin Smoak has three doubles in the last three games and this offense would really take a step forward if its first baseman could deliver the extra base power most other teams have at the position. Dustin Ackley finally started to hit on the homestand and anything close to what was initially expected out of him would really give this team a shot in the arm.
So, we’ll see. There is still plenty of season to go.
But for the Mariners, at least, the season has finally started.