Last night, September 25th, the Seattle Mariners lost 5-4 to the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim. They clinched a losing record, and they struck out a total of 20 times against Zack Greinke and the rest of the Angels staff.
Normally, a night like that does not have much of a silver lining. But there's something very encouraging for the Mariners as they wind down a forgettable 2012 that could lead to a memorable 2013: First baseman Justin Smoak is finally starting to hit.
The centerpiece in the Cliff Lee trade to the Texas Rangers midway through the 2010 season, Justin Smoak has been a tremendous disappointment in his first two-and-a-half seasons in Seattle.
The one-time 11th overall pick from South Carolina was supposed to be a switch-hitting slugger who would anchor the Mariners lineup for years to come.
His numbers were disappointing in 2011, and he hit rock bottom this past July. His average dipped to below .190, and he was in a 1-for-25 slump, causing the Mariners to send him back to the minor leagues on July 23.
By the middle of August, he was back in Seattle but still could not break .200 and had no pop.
The former top-25 prospect according to Baseball America was a bust at age 25.
Then, something clicked in mid-September. He had a three-hit day on September 15. He had a two-hit day with a homer the next day.
He started hitting for average and for power, including last night, when he hit two homers and raised his average from .189 in early September to .212 now.
This September, he is batting .362 with four homers and an OPS of 1.077. And that includes the first two weeks of the month, when his slump continued.
As I wrote in a previous Bleacher Report article, the Mariners lineup is long on potential but not on production. But if Smoak can continue this kind of hitting into 2013, the Mariners will have one big part of their lineup in place and make the Cliff Lee deal worthwhile.
Once Jesus Montero, Dustin Ackley, Michael Saunders and Trayvon Robinson also start hitting like this, the Mariners might very well be on their way to meaningful games next September.