Friday, April 29, 2011

Hey! The Mariners Can Hit...A Little...Better

The Seattle Mariners do not have the worst offense in the majors thus far in 2011. That in and of itself is big news after last year. There are currently four teams that have worse offenses than the Mariners (Oakland, Pittsburgh, Minnesota and San Diego). That's progress. But let's not get carried away. Their team OPS is only .658, which is only 22 points above last year's abysmal .636. The improvement though, gives the Mariners a chance on any given night and with the pitching of Hernandez and Pineda, they have an improved chance to win ballgames.

But can it last? Call this Fan skeptical. Miguel Olivo isn't exactly tearing the covers off the balls. But what he is doing is far and above what the Mariners have received at the catching position for the past two years. He shouldn't regress from where he is and may even improve a bit. The biggest boost has come from Justin Smoak, who is finally turning into the kind of player the Rangers hoped he would be and the kind of player the Mariners were willing to give up Cliff Lee for. Smoak currently has an OPS of 988 and seems to have a good sense at the plate. But can he sustain this newfound success?

Smoak can have an excellent season. He has the plate recognition needed and has cut down some on his strikeouts. Smoak won't stay at .988, but he could very well stay near .900. The real problem will be if nobody is hitting around him. If that happens, pitchers will just start skipping him in the batting order. And the line up is still a problem. Figgins is so far showing that last year's dismal showing wasn't a fluke. He has a .525 OPS. Oof. Milton Bradley looked early as if he was going to get back to some modicum of productivity. But he has fallen off lately and is down to batting .208. Despite that low batting average, his OPS+ still sits at 100 so he is contributing in other ways. All he has to do is hit .250 with his walks and occasional power and he can still be useful.

Jack Wilson has never been a good offensive player. He is hitting near his norms. Brendan Ryan has yet to hit consistently and looks more like last year's Ryan and not the Ryan of two years ago. This Fan still likes his upside and his value lies in run prevention and defense. Adam Kennedy has been an early surprise but should sink to his career norms over the course of the season.

Chris Gimenez has given the Mariners a brief spark, but he got hurt recently. Jack Cust has been a disappointment so far. He still gets his walks and still strikes out a lot. The question will remain if he can ever again be a valuable slugger. The odds seem against it.

The bad news here is that only Ichiro is doing what he normally does and Justin Smoak gives them a star in the meat of the order. But the rest of the line up is questionable and as the season wears on, will struggle often to secure runs. They now have two stud pitchers which gives them a good chance to split any series. Perhaps they aren't the pushovers they were last year. But despite better play of late, the Mariners still remain a team that will lose more games than they will win.

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