BY Art Thiel 11:00AM 05/19/2015

Thiel: Mariners, fans are waiting for Cano

For all the bellyaching about other hitters in the lineup, it is the falloff with Robinson Cano that is biggest problem with the Mariners offense.

Everyone is waiting for Cano. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Two MLB stat lines from this season. One belongs to a current Mariner. One belongs to a former Mariner.

Player 1: 37 games, one homer, eight RBIs, .278 average, .660 OPS, eight walks and eight strikeouts.

Player 2:  37 games, one homer, 11 RBIs, .253 average, .647  OPS, eight walks and 27 strikeouts.

If you guessed that these near twins were Ichiro of the Miami Marlins and Robinson Cano of the Mariners, please send a self-addressed stamped envelope and $500 to me for your baseball forensics certificate.

No, I’m not suggesting the Mariners made a mistake in trading Ichiro, who wore out his welcome in Seattle well before trade to the Yankees — even though at 41 he’s slightly outproducing Mariners stalwart Cano, 32.

What I am saying is that Cano’s fade was supposed to happen several years deep into the 10-year deal he signed, not in the second year.

After watching his final two strikeouts in Sunday’s game, he looked like a guy in need either of extended spring training, or long rest. The only weaker whiffs is sports lately were Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s demands for apologies from the NFL at the Super Bowl for Deflategate.

Cano’s batting average is 55 points behind his career average. He’s 205 points below his career OPS average. There’s been a lot of kvetching lately, rightfully so, about the Area Code Boys at the bottom of the Mariners lineup who aspire to reach .206. But Cano was hired to be the aircraft carrier among the Zodiac boats. Gap hitting with warning track power was Ichiro’s game.

The Mariners have lost eight games by a single run this season. Imagine if Cano had hits in just four of those that contributed to reversing outcomes. The Mariners are 21-16 and the true-to-the-bloomers are so unbunched they could be made into sails.

Obviously, the if-then game can be played with any hitter, but few are being paid $24 million to hit. One who is paid $27 million has 10 homers and 22 RBI, but enough about ex-Mariner Alex Rodriguez, 40. There’s only so many recriminations to go around.

Unsurprisingly, manager Lloyd McClendon would no more tolerate criticism of Cano than the fashion world would tolerate Kate Upton in a mackinaw.

After the 5-0 win Sunday over Boston when Cano had another o-fer, McClendon said he’s seen analytics that show Cano is “the unluckiest hitter in MLB. He’s hit a lot of balls extremely hard (but at a fielder). I’m not overly concerned because he’s not striking out a lot. I think he’ll get hot.”

Cano is well behind AL leader Chris Carter of Houston with 56 strikeouts, as well as club leader Mike Zunino at 44.  But this year he is backed up by cleanup hitter Nelson Cruz, which should improve the pitches he’s seeing. No apparent advantage has been taken.

One point about the calendar buttresses McClendon’s defense. Cano last year, his first in Seattle, didn’t hit his second home run until May 21.

But a year ago he was hitting .318 with a .771 OPS. His modest power game — he had 14 homers, equaling his career lows in 2005 and 2008 — was shielded by overall productivity.

Through nearly seven weeks of the season, it is Cano’s falloff that is the biggest problem with the Mariners offense. Bad as guys like Zunino and Dustin Ackley have been, they’re only a little worse than career averages. Cano is getting superhero money to capture bad guys, return the stolen money to the credit union and get a kiss from the pretty girl.

McClendon may be right — he often was a season ago — and being 7½ games behind an Astros team that previously has never engaged in expectations is not the worst thing.

But the excruciating turns that have created close defeats, as well as close wins, are soul-suckers that leave marks on the bullpen and suggest that margins are thinner than usual this season.

So as Robinson, as well as Cruz, the ex-Oriole,  head into the snuff can — band box is too generous — that is Camden Yards in Baltimore, Cano needs to know he stands in the skinny shadow of 41-year-old Ichiro. This no time to be beating out choppers to first base.


  • jafabian

    Not to worried about Cano though I thought that Cruz’s hot start would give him at least better pitches at his AB’s. I’m not sure teams quite respect Cruz just yet as evidenced by the Red Sox’s decision to pitch to him when 1B was open and he ended up getting a walk off single to drive in the winning run.

    Not sure if maybe the lack of players on base when he comes up plays a role with Cano. Last year the team OBP was .300 and right now it’s down at .296. Still confident things will be better by the end of the month.

    • art thiel

      No need to panic, and he had two hits Tuesday, but his power hasn’t come with him to Seattle.

      • jafabian

        Nor that 315 right field porch at Yankee Stadium. If Cano’s going to be here the next 9 seasons they might as well move it in.

        • dingle

          …and neutralize the real strength of the Mariners: pitching.

          I don’t think that’s advisable.

  • Kevin Lynch

    OBP and RISP averages are the critical stats. And if we wanted to invent one more acronym (God, no) GLCP – games lost to critical players. The number of games critical players lost to injury. They were fortunate last year. They cannot afford to lose any critical players for any length of time this year at 7 games back. This happened to the Angels last year (Richards, Hamilton, etc.) and they still won, what, 98 games? The M’s don’t have the intangibles the Angels do.

    • art thiel

      Good points. The bench with Weeks, Bloomquist, Ruggiano and until today, Sucre, is bad. And Triple A offers almost no immediate help.

  • notaboomer

    the marlins are tanking and the new manager/gm is benching ichiro. so trade lomo back to miami for ichiro, put him in left and batting 1st or 2nd, bring jesus (montero) up to dh/1B, and if it doesn’t work, at least we get to root for ichiro to get to 3000 mlb hits and for parity (?) in the pineda/jesus trade. (pineda’s 5-1 with a 3.31 era and 55 Ks para los yanquis). cano needs lineup inspiration that only ichiro and jesus can deliver. and who goes away? cut weeks.

  • just passing thru

    Godot is waiting for Cano.