BY Art Thiel 01:11AM 06/25/2014

Thiel: It’s time to take the Mariners seriously

Another robust night of offense and more solid bullpen work made for an 8-2 win and an increasing sense that the Mariners have more answers than questions.

Endy Chavez followed up his triple Monday with another Tuesday against the Red Sox. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

After scoring 20 runs in two games, winning five in a row, reaching a seasonal high point of six games above .500 with the best June record (15-8) in the majors despite a hefty chunk of the roster on the disabled list, it is becoming possible for reasonable people to take the Mariners seriously.

There. I wrote it. Mock me as you will, and predict an eight-game losing streak. Life is most intense on the edge.

After seeing 3B Kyle Seager’s exclamation point — a towering shot smashed against a window on the Hit It Here Cafe high enough that Bud Selig’s backward signature won’t be washed off for weeks — it is time to consider the rest of his statement.

“There’s a really good feeling in the clubhouse,” Seager said. “I think we’ll be able to sustain it.”

Such optimism can be dismissed as youthful exuberance following an 8-2 victory over the Red Sox Tuesday that followed a 12-3 win over the Bostons Monday, which followed three wins on the road against a Kansas City team that previously won 10 of 11. Experienced observers will say young teams with some talent can make nice runs here and there, but will swoon just as quickly.

All true. What also must be considered is that aside from Oakland, much of the rest of the American League is flawed and injured too, like Boston, the defending champs. Additionally, all of baseball is overwhelmingly dominated by pitching, to the point where Mariners offensive shortfalls aren’t as relatively consequential as in previous years. And Seattle’s pitching can match with any foe.

Then there’s the sense that Seattle is, after a fashion, finally getting a little personnel luck (starting pitcher Chris Young and centerfielder James Jones) to go with getting a little crazy (Robinson Cano, $240 million).

Add it up and it comes to 42-36 and residence in the first days of summer in the AL’s fifth and final playoff spot. That position is well shy of the World Series, but well ahead of where the Mariners have been in recent years.

There’s also this notion offered up by manager Lloyd McClendon regarding Seager.

“He’s an accomplished hitter, and I know what he can do at the plate,” he said. “He’s not a .260 hitter. There’s big room for improvement. He has another step to take.”

That points up the idea that Seager, as well as several others, are not playing out of their minds to reach this modest team pinnacle. They are merely playing better, yet shy of potential.

“I like that he’s on me (to do better),” Seager said. “I have to start using the whole field and eliminating holes (in his swing).”

Construction is underway. The big dinger was a three-run shot and part of a four-run fifth that stuck Red Sox starter Jake Peavy with his sixth consecutive loss. Seager has driven in a club-record 2+ runs in five consecutive home games and has driven in 51 runs in his last 56 games.

Contributions in the win streak are numerous. Endy Chavez, on no one’s radar in spring, went 3-for-3 and had triples in consecutive games. Mike Zunino homered Tuesday and in three his past four games. After a 4-for-4 night Monday, 1B Logan Morrison drove in a run with a sacrifice fly and stunned the park twice — a bunt single and a lunging spear of a hard line drive to his right.

Even though regular 1B Justin Smoak is eligible to return from the disabled list this week, it’s hard to imagine him hitting balls harder and farther than Morrison, who benefited greatly from an 18-game rehab stint in Tacoma to regain form.

“I knew he had power, and I like what I see,” McClendon said of Morrison. “He even bunted, so he made everybody happy. Those are the kind of things you have to do to beat the shift.”

Even No. 5 starter Erasmo Ramirez did his quirky thing again — despite lapses of control that created five walks, he extended his scoreless-inning streak three more to 19.2 before Brock Holt hit two-run homer in the fourth. He lasted only one more hitter before McClendon called on four relievers to shut out Boston the rest of the way.

Despite the win, McClendon didn’t like Ramirez taking 93 pitches go 4.1 innings.

“You can’t tax the bullpen like that night in and night out,” he said.

Yet even the down note had an upside — Taijuan Walker, the rehabbing rookie prodigy expected to be in the rotation out of spring, pitched a complete-game shutout in AAA Tacoma Tuesday and was in total command.

Whenever the Mariners have questions these days, they seem able to locate answers.

Notes

Jones stole two more bases for 14 this season in 15 attempts. The leader last season was Michael Saunders with 13 . . .  The bullpen has allowed one run over the last 15 innings and is 3-0 with a 0.60 ERA with a .204 opponent average . . .  Mariners farmhands Gabby Guerrero, a 20-year-old outfielder from the Dominican Republic (World), and 1B D.J. Peterson, 22 (USA), have been selected to play in the the All-Star Futures game game July 13 in Minneapolis. Peterson, the 2012 first-round draft pick, has been promoted from High A High Desert to AA Jackson after hitting .326 with 18 homers runs and 73 RBI in 65 games. His June: .392, eight homers, 32 RBI.

 


YourThoughts

  • Jeff

    I think the comparison would be the Rays teams and A’s teams of the past few years, where they couldn’t hit well, there wasn’t but a player or two in their lineup that you’d really be concerned about, but pitching carried them to the playoffs. But that’s an optimal outlook. I still look at most of the lineups Lloyd trots out and wonder how they do it. Hopefully Jack Z doesn’t do something stupid via trade if the M’s do end up buyers…

    • art thiel

      Lloyd has done more managing in three months than Wedge did in six.

      • RadioGuy

        Agreed. He’s a bit of a hero (unsung or otherwise) by making sure the bench gets playing time so the subs don’t get disinterested or worse and the starters don’t flame out from overwork down the stretch. He’s also stepped things up from the Wedge Era by not letting his players know he expects them to be able to perform at this level and isn’t afraid to sit them if they don’t. One more thing: Lloyd has been a steady hand at the wheel by not getting high when they win and not getting low when they lose.

        It’s still not quite halfway through the season and it’s way too early to think about this seriously, but for now he should be considered as Manager of the Year material. I mean, who expected the Seattle Mariners to have a winning record and be a potential playoff contender this season? The whole has thus far been greater than the parts and the skipper deserves a lot of credit for making that happen.

        • art thiel

          If he keeps this up, everyone will forgive McClendon for Almonte.

          • gonzo

            Forgot about him already…that’s ages ago. :)

  • jafabian

    I’m still waiting for that July swoon that’s become all to familiar for the M’s. Come August 1st Jack will have decisions to make if they’re in the playoff hunt. This team, except for a few vets, has no idea what the pressure of a playoff hunt is like. Are they worth giving up prospects for to bring in players they’d need for the stretch run?

    • Effzee

      Maybe they actually are this time. Problem is, if they make a move, it will inevitably be the wrong one, handing a future all-star to an East Coast team. If Howie even approves of a trade, that is. But I’m only making that claim based on 30+ years of evidence. This team is actually fun, which is something very new for us long sufferers. I’m not ready to say they should be taken seriously yet. This is something that still has to be proven to me on a daily basis. Because I am a life-long Mariners follower, and several times fan, I am used to the bottom falling out. Lets just go day by day shall we? :)

      • art thiel

        You’re entitled to the cynicism. But pitching is 75 percent of baseball these days. They have pitching, and the Mariners, like most teams, need just 3-4 guys a night to hit to be in every game.

        • Effzee

          I can dig it.

    • art thiel

      Young players make the playoffs all the time.

      I think Jack Z is unlikely to rent a vet at the expense of his young talent. Then again, Cano gets older every year.

      • Amazonia

        Tried to score an apartment lately? $240 mil is average rent in Seattle these days.

        • art thiel

          Are you a member of Amazonia, or a victim?

  • RadioGuy

    I think they’re doing fine with the cast of characters they have already. I wouldn’t trade anyone (especially prospects) except perhaps Young, who has pitched well but IS well into his 30′s and will likely be odd man out if/when both Walker and Paxton are in Mariners togs. You can’t have a six-man rotation and Young will have some value to teams looking for pitching down the stretch. But for now, leave things be. Whatever it is appears to be working.

    • art thiel

      No argument here.

  • Tian Biao

    whatever else happens, this team is fun to watch, and that hasn’t been true for a long time. McClendon is willing to give everyone a chance, and some of them have put up some not-bad numbers. it’ll be interesting to see what happens with Smoak – he’s Z’s guy, and if Morrison falters, there might be pressure to play Smoak, so that’ll be fun too. a very entertaining year so far . . .

    • art thiel

      Morrison is Z’s guy too, and Jack has to make the Cano investment pay.

  • dinglenuts

    I’m not quite enthused yet, but it’s nice to see some rays of sunshine and hope escaping from the 25-man embodiment of Northwest gloom.

    If they’re playing this way at the end of July, I’ll start believing that this team has a chance of playing some baseball in October.

    • art thiel

      I’m just desperate to be trendy.

  • Pluto Disney

    Jumpin’ Jupiter, Franchise! It’s June and Mercury is retrograde. Call me in two months, and we’ll see if your finger was on the pulse or merely on Uranus.

    • art thiel

      Everything is legal in this state, including optimism.

  • Joe Fan

    I’ll take them seriously if they leave Smoak down in AAA.

    • art thiel

      Presuming he’s done with bat/brow therapy, Morrison may have won the job.

      • Joe Fan

        I sure hope you are right Art.

  • Big

    It’s summer and living is easy. What’s not to like about the M’s performance to date? Come late August if we are in the hunt I’ll be bonkers. If we fad there is a hair shirt awaiting in my closet next to my other M’s gear.

    • art thiel

      I just want to see James Jones in a September pennant race go all Vince Coleman.

      • Jorge “Utility Man” Carrasco

        And Willie Baseball go all Mark McLemore?

  • Jamo57

    And in the ol’ irony department, I just read this column after reading about Tim Lincecum’s second no-hitter. (Shaking my fist at the baseball gods for their cold slap to my face with reality).

    OK seriously. Maybe the Ms can go on a run for the ages, a la Dodgers of ’88 or Mets of ’69, and win the hold dang thing. Howard Lincoln lets loose in a fit of delirious civic pride and comes out fully behind a SoDo arena, embracing hockey and basketball and all things Seattle. His infectious Scrooge-like transformation inspires the mayor and city council, and ground is broken on the arena as the NHL announces an expansion team for Seattle.

    Then I can take the Mariners seriously……

    • art thiel

      Anyone else need proof pot is now legal?

      • RadioGuy

        And the retail stores don’t even open until July 8. He must know a grower.

        • Jamo57

          It was the effect of all those calls by Rizzy, ‘Holy Smoke!’ during 90+ loss seasons. I thought he was prescribing how to survive it all. Then again, being told to take this team seriously……who’s high?

          • Hairy Mets Ally

            I’ll have what you’re having! It might get me past the trading deadline.

          • Jamo57

            Or Hawks training camp. ;-)

          • art thiel

            Don’t bogart that joint, my friend . . .

  • notaboomer

    it should be noted that the cubs are only 9 games behind in the nl wildcard race and it’s not even the all star break. #daretodream

    • art thiel

      Everyone is close in the wild card race.

  • Jeff Shope

    lol is this a joke? seriously? um nope

    • art thiel

      The bandwagon has plenty of room, even for you.

  • ollie swensen

    it has been an interesting ride so far.
    just a quick comparison between the m’s and first place a’s shows that the two teams are much closer statistically than one might presume. the rankings aside, in the most common measures of baseball success, the m’s are 73 runs behind the a’s, but in terms of BA .009, OBP .035, and SLG at .003 they grade out quite close.
    From a pitching standpoint, aside from QS differential of 10 starts, they are just behind the a’s by .013 in ERA, .003 WHIP, and .003 BAA.
    after almost a half season of scrutiny this gives a reasonable barometer as to the status of team play, barring a significant signing or injury this is the level of team play for which to improve in the second half.
    not a bad place to be, especially with the prospect of Walker, and perhaps Paxton yet to contribute.

    • art thiel

      Good work, Ollie. Numbers don’t lie. The limitation is projection: A majority of the A’s roster has been through two division-winning experiences. None of the Mariners’ everyday players except Cano have a 162-game record of average or better play.

  • art thiel

    We didn’t need that the first time, and got it twice.