Seattle Mariners: Keys to Having a Successful Road Trip in the Middle of May
This 10-game stretch will be crucial. When put in perspective with the first few weeks of the season, these games should answer some important questions determining lineup order, positional battles and roster spots.
So far it's been a mix of good, bad and ugly this season, but the next 10 days should really separate the men from the boys.
In order for this trip to be a success, a few things will need to happen. Some will be easy, yet most will provide the team a challenge. They may not win on all fronts, but if they win a few, the team and the season might manage to stay afloat.
Felix, Vargas and Pray for Rain?
Perhaps you can add Blake Beavan to this list if he's healthy following Monday night's early exit due to Miguel Cabrera's line drive off his right elbow.
Beyond that, the starting rotation is "cover your eyes" bad as Kevin Millwood and Hector Noesi are not fooling anyone.
With the team continuing to struggle in scoring runs, every starter needs to put together one solid outing after the next. Sadly it seems that Felix and Vargas are carrying the weight just about every night in putting together one thankless performance after another.
Their efforts are then left at the mercy of the bullpen...
The Bullpen Needs to Hold the Line
Oddly enough, this crew has managed to stay out of trouble lately.
While I'm not convinced they are entirely trustworthy, the team is left with little choice.
For the Mariners to have any chance of surviving this road trip, this group will need to hold firm.
Youth Be Served
Thank goodness for Jesus Montero and Kyle Seager this season.
If it wasn't for the two of them and the occasional odd hit by someone else in the lineup, there wouldn't be much to cheer about on offense.
Don't get me wrong, there are other players capable of making some noise, but these two always seem to have a hand in getting things either started, finished or at least moving in the right direction.
Monday night was a perfect example of what they bring to the table. When Montero just missed hitting a game-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth, it was Seager that sacrificed in order to get Munenori Kawasaki, who was pinch-running for Montero, to third. After that all John Jaso needed to do was hit a fly ball deep enough for a sacrifice fly.
Tuesday night Montero may have come up short, but tell me you didn't get a little excited when he came up with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth to face Tigers closer Jose Valverde?
Ultimately it's not going to be an easy road trip, but one has to hope that Montero, especially in returning to New York for the first time, gets to have some fun.
Play the Hot Hands
Speaking of Monday night...
Not sure what to make of John Jaso's prospects long-term, but for now he seems to have a knack of being in the right place at the right time.
The team's unofficial designated hitter once again came through when it was needed with his sacrifice fly to win the ballgame against Detroit on Monday night.
Whether it's Jaso, Alex Liddi or to a lesser extent Michael Saunders the Mariners need to continue their search for players on the current roster capable of making an impact. One would hope that in time enough of them will stick to fill the lineup.
Searching for Dustin Ackley
One player that should keep his place in the lineup regardless is Dustin Ackley.
Yet is it me or has Ackley been lost in the shuffle this year?
Somewhere between the promising starts by Jesus Montero and Kyle Seager and the disappointment of Justin Smoak, Ackley has quietly patched together a rather pedestrian stat line.
Of course it's only early May and Ackley is most likely going to turn things around, but it still begs the question of when?
Certainly not on Tuesday night in the bottom of the ninth with two runners on and no outs when manager Eric Wedge asked him to bunt. Where Kyle Seager succeeded the night before, Ackley ultimately came up short.
It's bad enough that Ackley has reached the point where Wedge would rather take his chances with Brendan Ryan hitting next in the order, but only compounded further when he failed to follow through on the sacrifice.
At some point one has to hope Ackley finds his way.
A solid road trip would be a nice start.
Last Chance for Chone
You have to imagine that time and patience are wearing thin for Figgins.
Honestly I thought he would put up a better fight, but he's not even hitting above .200 at this point.
M's manager Eric Wedge will probably give Figgins a few more starts on this trip; however, if he's not above the dreaded Mendoza line by the time the team returns home...it could be the end of the line for him.
Sadly, you can soon pencil in Brendan Ryan's name here as well.
Leave the "Smoakamotive" at Home
Last but not least, Justin Smoak.
I know last Friday night the Mariners had their "Smoakamotive" promotion. Plenty still available on eBay in case you missed out...
At the same time, I think all parties need a break from each other here.
Sending Smoak back to Tacoma is not without issues. At the same time he's just not getting the job done regardless of where he's hitting in the batting order. My vote is to send him down for a bit to find his swing.
Yet every time it seems they're ready to give up on him, he goes out and hits a homer or manages to piece together a decent game. By comparison, though, Alex Liddi has almost as many hits as Smoak this season with half the number of at-bats.
Understand I'm not giving up on Smoak, I just think a 10-game road trip isn't going to solve his problems. In fact, I'd wager it's only going to make things worse.