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July 3, 2014 at 8:32 pm ET
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For Reals?

james jonesAs I write this, the day before Independence Day, the Mariners are 47-38 and sitting firmly in the second wild card spot in the American League.

This is a surprise to many, myself included. I had no reason to think that Seattle would contend for the playoffs. I thought .500 was a reasonable goal. The main reason was that their offense, horrific for this entire decade, would remain dormant even with Robinson Cano.

Sure, they had the pitching, but when Taijuan Walker and James Paxton went  down early, I thought they’d have to rely too much on a bullpen that had some *interesting* characters. Plus, their defense wasn’t that stellar in the outfield and they didn’t really rectify that by adding to their endless collection of DH’s.

But here they stand. Baseball, though, is a long slog, and many teams have had a record this good only to falter. And the locals, while pleased that the M’s are actually winning a few, still seem a lot more excited by the Seahawks and the Sounders.

Are the Mariners for real?

Welp, it depends.

Their pitching is for real. The slump King Felix had early in the season was just a hiccup. Hisashi Iwakuma may not have all-star stuff anymore, but he’s doing well enough. Chris Young hasn’t gotten hurt, which is a bonus. Roenas Elias has done better than expected, with an ERA+ barely under 100 (thanks park effects!) and, more importantly, an ability to keep the M’s IN games. Only the fifth starter spot has been troublesome, but Walker is back off the DL so Erasmo Ramierz and Brandon Maurer can go light up the sky in Tacoma.

The bullpen has been tremendous – better than anyone expected. Fernando Rodney hasn’t imploded. Tom Wilhelmsen has recovered, seemingly. And the rest of the crew, including Lord Farquahr, has done their job.

They have the best ERA in the AL, which can be expected with Safeco. But their team ERA+ is 117, so it’s not all park effects.

As for their offense…

Kyle Seager and Robinson Cano have done what’s been expected of them, and more. Seager has moved beyond ‘good’ player to knocking on the door of ‘elite’, with a SLG of .500 despite Safeco. Michael Saunders is having a good year and it would be better if he could stay healthy. Of course, Saunders has had good years before, and he’s had good half seasons, and he’s also been absolutely dreadful in stretches. So the juries out there.

James Jones was called up when Abraham Almonte couldn’t hack it as a regular, and he’s FAST. So fast. So, so fast. His OPS+ is under 100 though because he’s not walked a lot. He wasn’t going to be a slugger, so he NEEDS to walk to be a good player. Still, there is hope if he could develop patience that he could become a good lead off man.

Mike Zunino has an OPS+ over 100 and has 13 dingers. He’s developed a bit faster than expected.

So if Saunders keeps it up (knock on wood) and Jones improves his plate discipline, that’s five plus offensive players.

Five out of nine.

Not good.

Logan Morrison’s been hurt, and he’s been on a hot streak, but an OPS+ of 104 for a guy that you just pay to hit isn’t good. The other outfielders have ranged from meh (Dustin Ackley) to dreadful (Stefen Romero). Corey Hart’s been hurt and not hitting. Justin Smoak’s hurt and not hitting. Brad Miller’s hit poor enough to have Willie F’n Bloomquist spot start for him and have fans clamor for Brendan Ryan to come back. (Come back, Brendan! All is forgiven!)  In fact, WFB has played FIRST BASE on occasion.

WFB! First baseman!

There’s no other help available, not when your bench has John Buck, Endy Chavez (he’s a ZOMBIE, I swear!) and Cole Gillespie. Almonte’s  not hitting in Tacoma. Nick Franklin and Jesus Montero were bad in Seattle, making them candidates for the dreaded AAAA player label.

Somehow, they’re 8th in the league in scoring thanks to some timely bops. I attribute that to luck, since they’re DEAD LAST in OBP.

And while their defense hasn’t been stellar on some metrics, they don’t commit errors and Seager is an excellent 3B. Ackley’s really good in LF, too.

Right now, they’re getting by on great pitching and a little luck. Is that enough going forward?

I don’t think so, not entirely. You can win with pitching and some defense, but you have to have a lineup that doesn’t rely on two players driving in a fast guy that’s still learning the game and a guy that’s puts the merc in mercurial.

Enjoy it now, Seattle, though. Savor it. Winning baseball is something that shouldn’t be sneered at. Not even by Eeyorian bloggers.

 

 

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