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August 3, 2013 at 9:06 PM

Mariners finally see big-bat damage hold up

Michael Saunders celebrates his first of two home runs on the night, this one a three-run blast in the fifth inning. Photo Credit: AP

Michael Saunders celebrates his first of two home runs on the night, this one a three-run blast in the fifth inning. Photo Credit: AP

The Mariners do more damage than any team in baseball via the long ball. After tonight, they have scored an MLB-high 48.1 percent of their 451 runs as a result of homers.

The Mariners hit three more homers tonight, two of them by Michael Saunders and another from Justin Smoak, and went on to win 8-4 over the Baltimore Orioles. Seven of their eight runs in this game came as a result of homers. The only difference tonight is that the pitching did not collapse late as it has throughout this road trip and season.

The offense isn’t the real problem with this team. The Mariners are averaging 4.13 runs per game, which is an improvement over the past four seasons, but still nothing to write home about. The big sign of change is in the team’s park-factored OPS+, which began the night at 106 — six percent above the AL average.

That’s the highest number posted by the Mariners since 2002 and that’s significant. It supports the contention that the hitting with runners in scoring position is what really killed the team early on. Based on the OPS+ totals, the Mariners really should have many more runs than they do.

They’ve started hitting better in those situations since July began and we’ve seen them pile up 23 runs the last three games on this trip.

Smoak and Saunders struggled with runners in scoring position in the first half. Saunders struggled to hit at all for 2 1/2 months but pulled out of his slump several weeks ago. The two of them now connecting regularly makes a big difference for the offense.

“We’re always looking to extend the lead, obviously,’’ Saunders said after his first multi-homer game in three months. “To get a couple of more cushion runs in the ninth, I’m sure it took some pressure off Farquhar.’’

Mariners relief pitcher Danny Farquhar certainly agreed with that statement.

Farquhar had quashed an eighth inning rally with an Adam Jones flyout with two on.

Then, he faced the prospect of heading back out for the ninth — manager Robby Thompson was going to let him face both lefties and righties if it came to that — with just a 6-4 lead and some big boppers due up. But the Saunders blast gave him plenty of margin for error.

“They had their big boys coming up, but thank God that Saunders hit that two-run homer in the ninth,’’ Farquhar said. “That definitely made the ninth significantly easier.’’

Farquhar struck out his first two batters, then got a flyout. And later, he got a long-awaited clubhouse beer shower to celebrate his first career save.

“It’s a big deal to me,’’ he said. “I was real excited about the beer shower. I’ve done a ton of them (for other players) in the three months since I’ve been here and I just wanted to get a stupid beer shower. And I got it, so it was a lot of fun.’’

Smoak had fun at the plate tonight, reaching five times on a homer, a single, two walks and a double ahead of the Saunders blast in the ninth.

“It was awesome,’’ Smoak said. “I was excited because I didn’t have to run hard to get to home plate. But yeah, we knew going into the top in the ninth that we had to at least get one more. And to get two right there was big for us.’’

It’s likely too late to salvage a .500 season for a team that remains eight games under. But the trick now will be to show that the Mariners can sustain this consistency at not only getting on, but also driving runs in. It was good to see two younger players take charge tonight. The Mariners can bop with the big boys now. They just need the other parts of their team to follow suit.

Expect to see a new second baseman in there tomorrow. Nick Franklin is in an 0-for-25 slump and misread a Raul Ibanez drive off the right field wall during that Keystone Kops double-play the Mariners ran themselves into in the eighth.

Franklin needs a mental break and my bet is he’ll get one.

Brad Miller had also struggled but had three hits tonight and should have had a fourth on that blooperto left that became a fielder’s choice. Looked much better out there.

Felix Hernandez got hit in the backside by that ball lined into the dugout. But the ball actually ricocheted before striking him, so he was more red-faced than anything else.

The news isn’t so good for Stephen Pryor, who had an MRI on his arm earlier today with the team looking for possile triceps damage. Unofficial word is he could be done for the year, but the team is holding off on any official announcement for now.

Comments | Topics: michael saunders; danny farquhar; justin smoak; erasmo ramirez

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