Baseball season is already a third of the way completed, and the month of June is in full swing. By now, with two months down, the kinks have been ironed out and each team is primed for the heart of the MLB schedule in preparation for the dog days of summer that are right around the corner.
The Seattle Mariners are no different than all the rest—they are amped to settle into a groove, overcome whatever injuries they’ve had and play competitive baseball. As we enter June, many questions abound about the direction of this Mariners squad.
At 25-32, Seattle sits in third place in the American League West. As expected from a young team, the M’s have had their ups and downs. What will this month bring them?
The Mariners’ catching situation is fraught with versatility—and confusion. Seattle has used three different catchers so far this season—each of them has played at least 11 games behind the plate.
While this depth has been useful for the Mariners overall, it’s inhibited each player’s consistency.
Offseason acquisition Jesus Montero has proved to be a solid performer, whacking seven home runs to go with 27 runs batted in and a .259 batting average, placing him as a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate.
He has, however, not received the most playing time behind the plate for the M’s. That honor goes to veteran Miguel Olivo, who has played 26 games at catcher. Unfortunately, Olivo has struggled a bit this season, posting a .211 batting average with 25 strikeouts in 109 at-bats.
The third wheel of this tripod is John Jaso, who has appeared in 11 games at catcher, including 10 starts. He has also made things a bit complex by hitting .282 in his 10 starts, with six of his base hits going for extra bases. (For the season, 47.8 percent of his hits have gone for extra bases.)
The M’s clearly want to ease Montero into a regular catching routine, often utilizing him as the designated hitter when Olivo starts behind the plate.
In fact, Montero has started more games at DH (27) than at catcher (22.) Amazingly, Montero is batting .341 when he is in the starting lineup at catcher. Obviously, he has the ability to do both extremely well.
Maybe in June, the Mariners will be forced to move Olivo—or at least consider it.The stellar play of Jaso as a backup, and the future expectations of Montero are what Seattle must focus on.
Despite what Geoff Baker of SeattleTimes.com says, the M’s must resolve this issue. Baker lauds the M’s for their handling of this three-headed monster.
But if the Mariners want true value from their trade, eventually they’ll have to use Montero more behind the plate.
It has been a tough go of it for shortstop Brendan Ryan this season. True, the Mariners realistically don’t expect much from the 30-year-old veteran. But he’s taking those low expectations to an even lower level.
Unfortunately for the M’s, backup shortstop Munenori Kawasaki hasn’t fared that much better. The rookie from Japan currently is posting a .195/.283/.220 slash line and has only one extra-base hit so far this year.
Maybe there were no expectations for Kawasaki heading into this season, though he had success in Japan. But so far, he has not proven he can hit at the MLB level in America. At least, he hasn’t done enough to wrestle the everyday job away from a .165 hitter.
The M’s currently do not have a strong shortstop prospect ready to make the leap from the minor leagues.
Luis Rodriguez earned a promotion last season after posting a .300 batting average in the minors. But he struggled in 44 games with Seattle, batting .197 with 21 strikeouts in 117 at-bats. This year, he is hitting .314 with Triple-A Tacoma. But Rodriguez is also 31 years old, and it doesn’t make sense to bring him up without bona fide long-term purpose.
Meanwhile, prospect Nick Franklin appears to be on the rise, but he is still working his way up from Double-A and will likely make a cameo late-season appearance in September.
For now, it appears that the Mariners will continue to trudge out Ryan and spot him every once in a while with Kawasaki—a combination that is batting .174 for the year.
In recent seasons, the Seattle pitching staff has been the team’s strong suit, atoning for the Mariners’ lack of hitting. This season has been an up-and-down one for Mariners pitchers—both the starters and the bullpen.
The starting rotation is special in that all five starters—Felix Hernandez, Jason Vargas, Kevin Millwood, Blake Beavan and Hector Noesi—have not missed a turn all year, and the M’s have not necessitated a substitute starter for any game.
However, that might soon change in June.
Hernandez is still his awesome self, though his 4-4 record doesn’t concur. Vargas, in fact, leads the team with 84 innings pitched and has a solid 7-4 record on the season. Meanwhile, the veteran, Millwood, is holding his own as the sage of the rotation, sporting an adequate 3.90 ERA in 11 starts.
The problem with the rotation is the youngsters—Beavan and Noesi, each of whom is his second season in the bigs. Beavan (5.22) and Noesi (5.51) are both in the bottom 15 in the AL in ERA. Beavan has a 3-5 record, while Noesi totes a 2-6 record.
Clearly, each is having a hard time adjusting to the majors.
Yes, they are young. Yes, they are inexperienced. But it’s hard for a team to throw two starting pitchers who are having a difficult time retiring hitters. Moreover, it’s the way in which they are getting beat, as opponents have peppered 24 combined home runs off Beavan and Noesi in 124 innings of work. Maybe they're just not ready for a full-time gig.
Many pundits were questioning if his .272 batting average and .645 OPS were an aberration or instead the beginning of the end of Suzuki’s appearance as one of the best hitters in all of MLB. Through two-plus months in 2012, it seems as though Suzuki’s performance is a in descent sharper than previously anticipated.
This season, Suzuki is sporting an incredibly pedestrian .256 batting average. That’s right, .256.
For a player as steadily stellar as Suzuki, who had 10 straight seasons with over 200 hits and a .300 batting average, seeing him struggle to regain his magical touch has been difficult. Knowing how much of a perfectionist he is, and how much pride he has, one would simply assume that he’ll “figure it out” and get back to “normal.”
But 2012 has once again proved that there is no such thing as normal. Or, rather, that Suzuki is now simply normalized, becoming an ordinary everyday hitter.
The M’s moved him into the third spot in the batting order to open the season, a hope that he could jump-start the team’s offense and that he’d find his stroke hitting ahead of the cleanup hitter. However, that little experiment did not work. Suzuki batted .271 in the third hole; but what was more striking was his .143 batting average with runners in scoring position.
Recently, Seattle gave Suzuki his leadoff spot back. And yet that still hasn't reignited the 38-year-old’s bat. Not fully. What gives? Could it be that Suzuki simply is no longer motivated? Other than to just not suck?
Whatever it is, this month will be a revealing one for Suzuki. Will his batting average plummet even further? Can he rebound and find his way closer to .300 than .225?
Maybe, with Suzuki in the final year of his contract, the Mariners will have the gonads to trade him (although he does have a no-trade clause, of course). With that, there has to be an iota of possibility that, maybe, this is the last month we’ll see Suzuki in a Mariners uniform.
Seattle faces the NL West this season, so there will be additional series against the San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks (The M’s already played the Colorado Rockies in May).
Having a significantly weak offense and a comparatively stronger pitching staff, Seattle is sort of masking as a National League team in an American League body. Playing a style of baseball more suited for the NL, maybe the Mariners can rack up a bunch of wins against the senior circuit teams.
The M’s already swept the Rockies, so could they win some more series' against the rest of the NL West?
It will be tough.
The Dodgers currently are atop their division, boasting the best record in all of baseball. The Giants, meanwhile, sport one of the NL’s more dominant starting rotations, making them especially tough against interleague opponents. Fortunately, the M’s also play the worst team in baseball, the San Diego Padres, for six games.
For fans, it’s a bit disappointing, because they won’t get to see Matt Kemp in action. But maybe this stretch of inter-league action will vault Seattle closer to .500? Hopefully.
Follow me on Twitter: @nathanieljue