The Seattle Mariners have had an up-and down season thus far, as they have now won three straight games after losing their previous seven. Overall, they stand at 14-17 on the year, six games behind the Texas Rangers for first place in the AL West.
Seattle's offense has looked much better this season compared to last year, and the starting pitching has kept the M's in a lot of ballgames.
In order for the Mariners to get over .500 and make a run at a division title, some key players need to step up very soon.
Second baseman Dustin Ackley is off to a noticeably slow start this season. The North Carolina native is hitting just .239 with one home run and nine RBI, and an average that low won't get it done at the top of the order.
I expect Ackley to turn it around at some point, and I'm rather surprised he's off to such a slow start after he was so impressive last year as a rookie.
With Ackley now slotted in the leadoff spot in the lineup as a result of the benching of Chone Figgins, he plays a major role in producing runs, something the Mariners often have a tough time doing.
Like Ackley, shortstop Brendan Ryan needs to begin hitting the ball much better in order for the M's to have offensive success. Ryan, now batting second, has struggled to find the Mendoza Line this season. Last time Ryan's average was .200 was April 21; it currently stands at .147.
He's too good defensively to bench and there aren't any viable replacements at this point, so hopefully time can work out Ryan's struggles at the plate.
Eleven hits against 24 strikeouts is nothing short of awful, especially considering Ryan strikes out about 46 times per season on average.
Ryan has drawn 13 walks this season, just nine short of his seasonal average. Maybe the key is just not to swing?
Discussions regarding struggling Mariners always seem to come back to Justin Smoak.
The Seattle first baseman is hitting just .180 this season, and has been moved down to seventh in the batting order.
The M's traded for Smoak expecting him to be a 25 home run guy, and so far he hasn't been. His three long balls this year make 23 total in 180 games with the Mariners.
While I don't think it's time to pull the plug on Smoak, maybe donning him with the nickname "Smoakamotive" is putting a little too much pressure on him. He knows what's expected of him and at this point, much of his struggles are likely mental.
Righty hurler Hector Noesi is still very young and ungroomed, as evidenced by his 6.30 ERA through six starts this year.
In his two wins on the season, Noesi has looked very good, totaling 15 innings pitched, nine hits, one run, 11 strikeouts. But his losses have me worried.
In Noesi's three losses, his numbers are: 10 innings, 15 hits and 16 runs, all earned.
I think realistically he's somewhere in between, and if he can toss six innings while giving up two or three runs, that should be good enough to keep Seattle in most games.
Although, his youth and inexperience may be tough to overcome.
The veteran right-hander has struggled mightily through his first five starts as a Seattle Mariner.
Kevin Millwood is one of two pitchers on the M's staff who has given up more than one hit per inning pitched, and is 0-3 with a 5.34 ERA. Hitters are also batting an astonishing .304 against him this season.
He has the highest WHIP on the team at 1.57, and most importantly, the Mariners are 1-4 in games in which Millwood was the starter.
I was surprised when he made the Opening Day roster, and if he doesn't turn it around soon you can expect to see a young arm like Danny Hultzen, James Paxton or Taijuan Walker replace him in the rotation.