Seattle Mariners v Chicago Cubs

Springtime Storylines: Can the Seattle Mariners score any runs?

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2012 season. Up next: the Seattle Mariners.

The Big Question: Can they score any runs?

In case you forgot, the Mariners had a historically bad offense in 2011. They scored 556 runs last year. The other 13 AL teams averaged 735 runs. This was near-deadball era production. It has to get better, right?

Of course it does. And it probably will. The addition of Jesus Montero certainly helps matters. He has always hit and will do so in Seattle as well, even if his raw power numbers are sapped somewhat by the big park in which he now plays.  Having Dustin Ackley around for a whole season and not just 90 games will be helpful too. Justin Smoak should take a step forward. Franklin Gutierrez and Chone Figgins can’t possibly have season as bad as they just had, right? Really, there’s nowhere to go but up for a lot of this roster even if, apart from Montero and Ackley, there is a practical ceiling on the heights they can reach.

People forget that the Mariners were actually holding their own for a time last year, flirting with .500 and even contention before a 17-game losing streak came along and just obliterated everything. No, they’re not as good as they showed before the winning streak, but they won’t be as bad as they showed after it either. And with a somewhat better offense to go along with what seems like it will always be competent pitching in Seattle, the M’s should be pretty respectable for a team most people will pick to finish last.

What else is going on? 

  • We may be seeing the end days of Ichiro. After ten straight  .300 average/200 hit seasons, Ichiro cratered last year, hitting .272 and getting on base at a mere .310 clip.  That has cost him the leadoff position, and now he’ll bat third. Will that change anything? It’s hard to see how. Ichiro is what he is and for all of the good things you can say about him, one thing you can’t necessarily say is that he’s adaptable. If he takes the same old approach and has 2011 results, it may be over for the guy.
  • What’s gonna have a bigger impact: the loss of Michael Pineda or the gain if Jesus Montero?  I’d say this is a net positive for Seattle. Yes, it’s hard to give up a hard-throwing young pitcher like Pineda, but the offensive need was so great for the M’s, that they have to be pleased to have made this tradeoff.  While Seattle doesn’t have anyone as good as Pineda to slot in behind Felix Hernandez, there is a lot of pitching depth on this team and some guys with upside coming up through the system.
  • No matter how they do in the won-loss department, one of the more interesting things to watch this year is whether Montero can catch. The Yankees seemed to think he was hopeless. The Mariners are a bit more optimistic about that, but it’s not as though they’re going to stick him behind the plate all the time. If he can catch at anything approaching a respectable level, his addition means a heck of a lot more than it would if he spent his entire career as a DH.
  • It’s a key year for Justin Smoak. He was expected by many to break out last season, but persona problems (the death of his father) and a nagging thumb injury kept from ever hitting full speed.  Entering his age 25 season, it’s time for Smoak to live up to the hype.

How are they gonna do?

Better, but let’s be real here: this is a last place team. But not a horrible one. And it’s a team with a decent amount of hope going forward and a lot of young arms with promise. It’s nothing to get excited about yet, but at least it’s not something that will create existential dread either.

Video: Gerrit Cole cranks out a three-run home run

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 20:  Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches during the third inning against the Colorado Rockies on May 20, 2016 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
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Pirates starter Gerrit Cole helped his own cause during Thursday afternoon’s 8-3 victory over the Diamondbacks. The right-hander erased a 1-0 deficit in the bottom of the second inning, cranking out a three-run home run to left-center field off of lefty Patrick Corbin.

It’s Cole’s second career home run. The other one came on September 7, 2014 off of Cubs pitcher Blake Parker.

Since Cole came into the league in 2013, he is one of only 22 pitchers (min. 100 plate appearances) with above-average production at the plate, going by FanGraphs’ wRC+ stat.

As for the pitching, Cole went five innings in a no-decision against the D-Backs, yielding an unearned run on seven hits and three walks with five strikeouts. On the year, he’s 5-3 with a 2.53 ERA and a 44/16 K/BB ratio in 53 1/3 innings.

Rougned Odor’s suspension reduced to seven games

ARLINGTON, TX - MAY 23: Rougned Odor #12 of the Texas Rangers fields a ground ball hit by C.J. Cron #24 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim  in the fifth inning at Global Life Park on May 23, 2016 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Rick Yeatts/Getty Images)
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Major League Baseball has reduced Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor‘s eight-game suspension by one game to seven, MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reports. Odor will begin serving the suspension on Friday, and the Rangers are expected to call up infielder Jurickson Profar from Triple-A Round Rock to replace Odor, per MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan.

Odor landed a right cross on the face of Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista in a series finale between the two teams on May 15. Bautista, who had been hit in the ribs by a Matt Bush fastball, slid in late and hard to Odor in an attempt to break up a ground ball double play attempt. Odor didn’t take kindly to Bautista’s slide. After Odor swung at Bautista, the benches emptied.

Bautista had his appeal hearing on Thursday morning. A decision on his case, a one-game suspension, isn’t expected to be made for another day or two.

Profar, 23, has hit .284/.356/.426 with five home runs and 26 RBI in 189 plate appearances at Round Rock this season.

Braves’ Hector Olivera suspended 82 games for domestic violence

Atlanta Braves' Hector Olivera heads to first base after hitting a double in the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Miami Marlins, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015, in Miami. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
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Major League Baseball just announced that Braves outfielder Hector Olivera has been suspended through August 1, 2016 for violating Major League Baseball’s Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy. The suspension is retroactive to April 30, making this an 82 game suspension. Olivera has been on paid leave since his arrest and will be required to return salary earned during that time.

Olivera was arrested early on April 13 after assaulting a woman at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Arlington, Virginia while the Braves were in town for a series against the Washington Nationals. The victim told police that she had been assaulted by Olivera. Police say the victim had bruises and was transported to a hospital. Olivera was at the hotel and taken into police custody.

Olivera had played in five games before the incident and was slated to be the Braves’ regular left fielder this season. There is little if any reason to believe he’ll feature in the Braves future for long after his suspension is served. Atlanta reportedly tried to trade him after his arrest, but there were understandably no takers. Olivera is in the second year of a six-year, $62.5 million contract.

Commissioner Manfred said in a statement today that, in addition to his suspension, “Mr. Olivera has also agreed to make a significant charitable contribution to one or more charitable organizations focused on preventing and treating survivors of domestic violence.”

Report: Chase Utley’s family received death threats from Mets fans after controversial slide

DENVER, CO - APRIL 22:  Chase Utley #26 of the Los Angeles Dodgers warms up onthe on deck circle as he prepares to take an at bat against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on April 22, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockies defeated the Dodgers 7-5. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Even before Chase Utley broke former Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada‘s leg with a slide during the playoffs last year, the second baseman was persona non grata in New York. Utley, playing for the rival Phillies, made the right field corner his — literally — with his performance at Citi Field. He was booed during his introduction at Yankee Stadium before the 2009 All-Star Game, prompting him to say audibly, “Boo? F— you.”

The slide put New York’s hatred of Utley into overdrive. Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times reports that after Utley broke Tejada’s leg, his family received death threats from angry Mets fans. In order to protect himself and his family, Utley didn’t stay at the team hotel after Game 2 of the NLDS.

His teammate, Clayton Kershaw, wasn’t happy with the way Utley was treated. He said, “Chase was playing the game the way he’s always played. Obviously you never want anybody to get hurt. The game being in the playoffs, and all that stuff, magnified everything. But there’s been a whole lot of slides a lot worse than that over the course of baseball [history] . . . Some of the stuff he had to go through, it wasn’t fair.”

The Mets host the Dodgers for a three-game series beginning on Friday. As McCullough notes, the two clubs didn’t get into any retaliation business when they played each other in Los Angeles earlier this month.