Seattle Mariners: 5 Things That Can Salvage the 2012 Season
It was the kind of series that one minute seemed lost, only to be found, only to be lost again. For today, the M's are 61-67 after losing three straight, not bad considering this team was a lost cause just a few weeks ago.
You could argue, "Isn't respectability enough? Besides, it's not like the M's were really going to grab the Wildcard anyway..."
Perhaps, but I'm not quite content with letting the next few weeks slip by without seeing a few tangible results to which we can pin some hopes on for 2013.
Here are five things I think can salvage what's left of the 2012 season.
Get Back on Track
Before we abandon hope of a miracle, let's consider the fact that the Mariners really held their own this weekend despite the fact they dropped all three games to the WhiteSox by a single run.
It wasn't as if the bats stopped hitting or that the pitching failed at every chance. At last check, the WhiteSox were a first place team fighting to stay atop their division, playing a team they simply owned this season by beating them eight out of nine contests.
Fortunately, the M's now head to Minnesota against the Twins, a team they've had much better success against this season, for a four game set with Felix Hernandez next in line to help stop the team's three game skid.
So let's not all jump ship just yet...
Dustin Ackley Stays Hot
Yet even if the Mariners continue to fizzle, I think we'd all love to see Dustin Ackley continue to hit with authority.
To say that Ackley has suffered from a "Sophomore Slump" would be putting it mildly as I along with a lot of other people pinned some high hopes on him at the beginning of the year.
While I understand that batting average isn't the end all be all for statisticians, I'm still left feeling a bit underwhelmed to see Ackley hitting roughly .235. For someone who was supposed to be either a table setter at the top of the order or the M's No. 3 hitter of the future, this simply won't cut it.
On the season, he still has twice as many strikeouts as walks and on the basepaths hasn't stolen a base all month.
If he's supposed to be the catalyst, Ackley needs to continue hitting the ball to all fields to get a few more extra base hits or steal a base when given the opportunity after reaching on a single or walk.
We know he can do it, but time is running out this season.
Jesus Montero Flashes Some Real Power
Jesus Montero through 400+ at bats has shown he can hit a home run or two, yet more often than not I've been left unimpressed with his work.
I suppose beggars can't be choosers with this group, but so many of Montero's dingers barely seemed to leave the park, that is, until recently.
His two home runs against Jered Weaver in Los Angeles were a good start earlier this month, but the shot that really got my attention came against Cleveland in Felix's first start since his perfect game. In a tight and tense ballgame Montero came up with two runners on, a one-run lead and with one swing hammered the ball off the facade in the upperdeck in left field to give the M's a 5-1 lead.
Montero still has a long way to go before becoming a Mariner legend, but that shot may be the one we look back at years from now as the turning point in his rookie year whether he ends up catching or not.
Not sure about you, but I want more and this team needs more both this year and for years to come.
Right now I'm not worried about average, runs batted in, or even the number of homers, simply whether Montero has what it takes to hit with the authority needed to be the man in the middle of the order.
Justin Smoak Creeps Past the Mendoza Line?
Naturally, if we're going to talk about Dustin Ackley and Jesus Montero, we need to include Justin Smoak.
Has there ever been a player in recent memory more vexing, than Smoak?
Yes, Ackley and Montero have their issues, but both have managed to show flashes of brilliance from time to time.
Meanwhile, unheralded players like Kyle Seager and Michael Saunders have arguably flourished this season, yet Smoak who is tied for second on the team in home runs is seen as a major disappointment.
Just look at the numbers...
Can his season be salvaged?
If so, how?
Since returning from Triple A Tacoma, Smoak has managed to have a few multi-hit games (including two this past weekend), but similar to Ackley it's really hard to picture him moving the needle enough to make anyone believe he's turned a corner.
Even if he goes on a tear and hits 20 home runs before the end of the season, does it matter if he's barely hitting above .200?
Franklin Gutierrez Can Stay Healthy
Perhaps this isn't at the top of anyone's list, but I feel in some ways that Gutierrez's season or lack thereof is symbolic of how this year has shaped up for so many players on the M's roster.
Yes, there have been some great stories this year with Felix tossing a perfect game being the best singular moment, while Kyle Seager's development has served as the best story the better part of the season in regards to the big picture.
Yet beyond Ackley, Montero, and Smoak's growing pains, the injuries to Guti and Mike Carp, Ichiro's departure, Brendan Ryan's struggles at the plate, Hector Noesi's struggles on the mound, Chone Figgins inexplicably continuing to taking up space, just to name a few...have made this year hard to watch until now.
This recent stretch of games has proven an enjoyable change of pace, but these next few weeks are just as much about next year as they are about this year depending on how things work out. Ultimately though, I want more than a .500 record and for Felix to stay each year.
We need guys like Gutierrez to fill out our lineup not to simply put nine guys on the field, but because of that slim chance that when everything is working this team could steal a wildcard spot. It probably won't happen this year, but we might have a shot next year if this group can prove it's capable of competing the rest of the way.
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