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.

And That Happened: Thursday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Yankees 4, Mariners 3: A pair of first inning two-run homers — from Aaron Judge and Miguel Andujar — were all the Yankees needed, even with a less-sharp-than-usual Luis Severino.

In other news, reporters asked Aaron Boone after the game yesterday if the Yankees are too reliant on homers. Boone was, quite understandably, incredulous that someone was asking him that.

Can someone please tell me why people who cover the Yankees, nearly every single year, go through a “are the Yankees too reliant on home runs?” phase? Seriously, go search “Yankees” and some variation of “home run-reliant” or “home run-dependent” or whatever. It’s an evergreen. Hell, they did it TEN DAYS AGO. As if hitting homers is bad. I mean, I know I’m not a seasoned beat reporter and don’t know nothin, but I’m pretty sure homers are awesome and are literally the best thing you can do when you’re batting.

John: “I hit a double.”
Charlie: “I hit a homer.”

CHARLIE WINS

My god, if you can’t think of an angle, at least stop going back to the tired and dumb ones you take every year. Or, at the very least, if you’re going to continue to worry about the Yankees being too reliant on homers, acknowledge that the Yankees HIT A METRIC BUTT-TON of homers, they’re hit by guys who are expected to hit a lot of homers so it’s not a fluke and it’s all good.

But, hey, congratulations on getting a quote out of Boone. Your copy is complete and turned in and you can go home now.

Red Sox 9, Twins 2: Rick Porcello tossed one-hit shutout ball for seven innings. No one asked him if he’s too “getting guys out”-reliant. Missed opportunity, really. Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi went deep and the Sox racked up 16 hits in all.

Rockies 6, Mets 4: Nolan Arenado hit a three-run jack early — his third homer in as many days — and knocked in five runs in all. Dude drove in nine runs against the Mets over the past three games, in fact, so I imagine New York is happy to be leaving town. Kyle Freeland went six innings, allowing two, and got out of jams with double plays on three occasions.

Nationals 4, Orioles 2: Max Scherzer allowed two over seven and struck out nine but didn’t get the win because his mates decided not to take a lead until the eighth inning. It happens. That lead came via a two-run double from Juan Soto, who is now batting .326 with 16 RBI in 28 games, despite the fact that I literally — yes, literally — have t-shirts in my regular rotation that are older than he is. Anthony Rendon homered.

Diamondbacks 9, Pirates 3: Arizona jumped out with eight runs before the third inning was even over, giving license to my friends in Pittsburgh for the SABR convention this weekend to leave early and go raise hell. And believe me, you do NOT want to get in the way of a bunch of baseball historians when they’ve had a few drinks and have time on their hands. You’ll just be walking down the street and then all of a sudden you’re cornered by some guys in dad jeans lecturing you about Hank Greenberg’s season with the 1932 Beaumont Explorers of the Texas League and asking you if there’s a good place to find some beer nearby, but “nothing too hoppy because, man, my system just can’t take that since I hit 50.”

Reds 6, Cubs 2: Cincinnati enjoyed a six-run sixth inning, thanks to a bases-loaded walk drawn by Eugenio Suarez, a grand slam by Jesse Winker and an RBI single from Billy Hamilton. In other news, yesterday on Twitter there was a lot of discussion about how MLB could do a better job of marketing players. My friend Jeff, who works in P.R. and used to work for Major League Baseball, said a lot of very smart things about that, explaining why it’s not so simple as to say “MLB should market its stars better.” One of the minor points in that is that ballplayers, by virtue of the culture of the game, are conditioned to not draw attention to themselves and to downplay their stardom lest someone think they’re a hot dog or a glory hound or whatever. I’m not going to suggest that Jesse Winker is a budding superstar which MLB should be marketing hard, but his quote after the game illustrates the point:

“Guys put together great at-bats in front of me. Obviously, you can’t hit a grand slam unless guys get on base.”

There’s a certain admirable humility to that. It’s also nothing that’s gonna sell t-shirts, posters or make 12-year-olds say “WOW, WINKER IS THE MAN!”

Brewers 11, Cardinals 3: Brent Suter allowed two over seven and the Cardinals threw and bobbled the ball all over the place, allowing the Brewers to score six unearned runs. Eric Thames drove in three and Travis Shaw and Jesus Aguilar knocked in a couple a piece.

Angels 8, Blue Jays 5: Luis Valbuena homered twice and Kole Calhoun connected for the second consecutive game. The Jays have lost nine of ten on the road. Also, this happened:

That was the first tweet I saw when I woke up this morning and I’m still chuckling. It’s John Lamb, by the way. I hope he has a good sense of humor about this.

Giants 3, Padres 0: Madison Bumgarner is back. I mean, he’s been back, but now he’s BACK. The Giants’ ace tossed eight shutout innings, allowing only three hits and struck out eight. He also knocked in the Giants’ first and, as it happens, only necessary run, with a sac fly. Giants fans can finally relax, knowing that, in some ways at least, the old order has been restored.

Athletics vs. White Sox — POSTPONED:

Hmmm
Sunshine, blue skies, please go away.
My girl has found another and gone away.
With her went my future, my life is filled with gloom.
So day after day, I stayed locked up in my room.
I know to you it might sound strange.
But I wish it would rain. (How I wish that it would rain)
Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah