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: Wednesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Braves 5, Marlins 2: Braves win, that’s great, but obviously the takeaway from this game was Jose Urena‘s completely classless and idiotic intentional drilling of Ronald Acuña on the game’s first pitch. Bill said just about everything that needs to be said about it last night, but please indulge me as a I express my feelings on the matter.

Baseball needs to make a major example of Urena and the Marlins for this. Not just for basic, perfectly sufficient “it is wrong to throw a ball nearly 100 m.p.h. at someone with the intention of hitting them” reasons. Also for “it is an awful look for the game in general when a pitcher for a losing team that has made a mockery of the notion of entertaining and competitive baseball via its complete disinterest in putting a real roster together because it places more value on debt service and cash flow than it does wining to intentionally injure one of the game’s most exciting young talents and, potentially, alter the course of a pennant race, simply because that exciting young talent is playing very good baseball lately.”

And it’s not just Urena and the Marlins. It’s the entire establishment of baseball which has decided, via its moronic devotion to a mindless chivalric code developed by the same jackasses who, once upon a time, decided that racially segregating the game was right and proper, that sure, there are some times when you must do violence for reasons they can’t even begin to explain because, with all due respect to the talents of baseball players, managers and executives, a great lot of them are frankly stupid and a great many more of them are moral and ethical simpletons. Even the ones we have all decided are lovable for some stupid reason.

Apologies for the run-on sentences and apologies if my feelings on this matter are less than clear.

Cubs 8, Brewers 4: Anthony Rizzo homered, drove in three runs and stole two bases, Jason Heyward had three hits and two RBI and David Bote had two hits, scored twice and flashed nice leather at third as the Cubs bounced back from their ugly shutout loss on Tuesday and extended their division lead back to three games over Milwaukee. Sorry for even more run-on sentences. I’m still rather worked up over the Urena-Acuã thing. I have my annual physical at 8:30 this morning. My doctor is probably gonna hospitalize me when he takes my blood pressure.

Cardinals 4, Nationals 2: Austin Gomber shut Washington out for six innings and Daniel Poncedeleon did it for two more innings before running out of gas while trying to get a three-inning save. Didn’t matter, though, as Bud Norris came in and closed it out before things got out of hand, giving the Cardinals their eighth straight win. Marcell Ozuna homered, Harrison Bader singled in one run and scored another on a wild pitch and Yadier Molina knocked in one as well. The Cardinals are tied in the loss column with the Brewers now for the second Wild Card. Meanwhile, the Nats have been trailing by a lot of games for many weeks but this is the week we’ll look back on and say “Yep, that’s when they broke. That’s when they gave up on the 2018 season.

Mariners 2, Athletics 0: This game was scoreless after nine very, very quick innings thanks to efficient and effective work from Mike Leake (8 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 6K) and Brett Anderson (7.2 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2K). You just don’t see a ton of games like that anymore, but I can certainly say it brightened my afternoon to watch such good work. On to extras it went where it remained scoreless for two more innings. In the top of the 12th, Yusmeiro Petit walked Mike Zunino immediately after which Dee Gordon deposited a two-run homer over the right field fence which held up to give Seattle a much-needed win and to avoid the sweep by the A’s. Oakland falls back to two games back of the Astros. The Mariners climb back to two and a half behind Oakland.

Astros 12, Rockies 1: Houston stops the five games of bleeding thanks to Gerrit Cole‘s one run, 12-strikeout performance and thanks to two homers from Evan Gattis, two homers from Tyler White and a dinger from Yuli Gurriel too. The 12 runs were more than Houston had scored in its last four games combined.

Mets 16, Orioles 5Kevin Plawecki hit a grand slam, Brandon Nimmo went 5-for-5 with three RBI and Todd Frazier singled, doubled homered and drove in four. The Mets had a nine-run sixth inning. I have tickets to see the Indians-Orioles game in Cleveland tomorrow. I’m struggling to think why I should be compelled to play full price if I’m only seeing one major league team.

Phillies 7, Red Sox 4: Welcome to the Phillies, Wilson Ramos! The recently-acquired and just-activated catcher went 3-for-4 with two doubles and a triple, drove in three runs and nailed a would-be base-stealer at second as Philly beats the mighty Red Sox. It was only Ramos’ second triple ever and it was, to be completely honest, a fluke thanks to an odd bounce off the wall. Even then, Jackie Bradley Jr. has a cannon for an arm, so once he got to the ball it was still fairly close at third. Fun play all around:

The Phillies used eight pitchers in this one. They should’ve let Ramos be one of them too. He probably would’ve struck out the side.

White Sox 6, Tigers 5: Matt Davidson and Jose Abreu each hit two-run homers in the middle of the game, turing a 3-2 deficit into a 6-3 lead and later held on as the Tigers plated a couple more. Carlos Rodon worked eight innings here, and those initial three runs would be all he’d allow.

Twins 6, Pirates 4: The Twins’ bullpen tossed 5.1 shutout innings and Logan Forsythe knocked in three runs. Chris Archer allowed four runs in five innings and the Pirates stranded a ton of runners and in dropping their third straight game.

Rays 6, Yankees 1Mallex Smith hit a two-run homer and Kevin Kiermaier had two hits, scored a run and drove in one. The Rays have taken seven of nine from the Yankees.

Indians 4, Reds 3:The Reds jumped out to a 3-0 lead in this one but after plating two to pull close, Melky Cabrera hit a two-run homer in the sixth to put Cleveland up for good. The Indians sweep the Reds in Cincinnati, outscoring them 22-7 in the three-game set and, in the process, taking the Ohio Series 4-2. The Reds, I heard, bet the Indians a year’s supply of Cincinnati chili on the outcome of the Series but the Indians awkwardly declined collecting their winnings. Weird that.

Blue Jays 6, Royals 5: Curtis Granderson hit a grand slam in the Jays’ five-run fourth and Kevin Pillar knocked in the other two Toronto runs via a couple of RBI singles. Granderson has two grand slams this year. Both came against the Royals. He has ten for his career. All ten have come against the Ro– haha, just kidding. That would be silly. But I bet if I wrote it deadpan at least some of you would believe or, at the very least, go check. The power I possess is so great that sometimes even I reel at its possibilities.

Angels 3, Padres 2: Rene Rivera hit a solo homer to break a 2-2 tie in the top of the ninth, giving the Halos the win. He, like Wilson Ramos, was just activated before this game after a stint on the disabled list. Big day for fresh catchers.

Dodgers 4, Giants 3: It looked like another bullpen disaster in the making for the Dodgers as they blew a 3-0 lead in the eighth thanks to an Andrew McCutchen three-run homer, but Dodgers relievers then somehow pulled four scoreless innings out of their butts and Brian Dozier‘s sac fly in the bottom of the 12th gave them a much needed walkoff win. Another bright spot: Hyun-Jin Ryu throwing six scoreless innings in his first start in more than three months.