Seattle Mariners' Early Divisional Lead Gives Reason for Hope

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Seattle Mariners' Early Divisional Lead Gives Reason for Hope
(Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

The Seattle Mariners are one-tenth of the way through the young 2009 Major League Baseball season. Their record stands at 10-6, and they sit atop of the American League Western division by three and a half games.

According to coolstandings.com, the Mariners, an estimated 78-win team, now have a 25.2 percent chance at taking the division. The division is really still up for grabs since it's still April, but the Mariners have shown much more positive versus the offseason negatives.

The offseason gave the Mariners some bumps. Former first-round pick Brandon Morrow decided that his diabetes would be easier to manage from the bullpen, causing the Mariners to lose their three-spot in the rotation. Also, All-Star right fielder Ichiro Suzuki was diagnosed with a bleeding ulcer and was forced to start the season on the disabled list.

The beginning of the season was also not so nice to the Seattle organization.

Carlos Silva lost some weight but also lost any useful "stuff"to get hitters out. Top shortstop prospect Carlos Triunfel broke his leg and will miss a full season of development in the minor leagues. Phillipe Aumont, also a former first-round draft pick, was converted from starter to reliever. Jeff Clement has been all but scrapped by the organization as a catching prospect as he toils in Tacoma despite injuries to catcher Kenji Johjima and back spasms to the two first basemen on the roster, Mike Sweeney and Russell Branyan.

Most importantly, the Mariners are still trying to give Yuniesky Betancourt every benefit of the doubt as he continues have issues in the field.

Betancourt, a former stud defender, is quickly destroying his reputation as a defensive wizard with the early plethora of errors in the field. Noted first by Dave Cameron on USSMariner.com, one of Betancourt’s issues has been his defensive alignment. He seems to be heavily shadowing Adrian Beltre, leaving the middle open. Maybe he has lost any confidence in his ability to go left, but many singles are being bled through the middle of the infield that should be routine outs, or worse, are getting scooped up by Betancourt and then the ball is hurriedly being thrown away, giving the team a single and error.

Meanwhile, his bat is not any strong point either, as he has refused to walk this season and has swung at 43 percent of the pitches outside of the strike zone, pacing him for a career high.

Despite all of that, there are many positive notes about the team. The Mariners are the most defensively strong team per UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating found on FanGraphs.com). This helps give us one of the strongest pitching staffs in the league. Franklin Gutierrez, dubbed “Death to all Flying Things” by Dave Niehaus, has been a terrific center fielder, providing more value in center than the Mariners have seen since Mike Cameron.

Felix Hernandez, despite a bum ankle, has pitched closer to his potential, and it can only get better as he relies on his fastball less. Starting pitcher Erik Bedard is showing why former GM Bill Bavasi thought it was a good idea to trade the farm for him (I still would rather have Adam Jones and company, since he is raking in Baltimore).

It will be an interesting summer in Seattle. New GM Jack Zduriencik has shown me that he understands value in baseball, and if that means unloading future free agents Bedard, Jarrod Washburn, and Beltre, I will trust that the return package will be better for the organization's strength in 2009 and in the future.

In the meantime, let's be happy, Mariners fans. This time last year, we were nearly out of the playoff picture!

 

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