As it goes for every MLB team, the middle of May is much too early to gauge the success or failure of the season. For the Seattle Mariners, it's unknown whether they'll finish as the surprise team of the year or cellar dwellers once again.
But at this point, I'm venturing to say that this club is better than their 18-20 record and will challenge for a playoff berth.
The lineup has so much offensive potential that hasn't clicked until recently, and the biggest issue seems to be finding consistency and leaving runners on base. Manager Eric Wedge has been mixing up the batting order lately and that's helped, but he tends to change it even after it works. Then again, the team has played well this year when bench players are rotated in and out each day.
While the offense continues its inner battle to find consistent success, the pitching staff has turned things around dramatically since the beginning of the season. The starting rotation has a permanent five who have all settled in nicely and look more comfortable on the mound, while the bullpen has gone from unpredictable to reliable, with the injury to Stephen Pryor not hurting as much as anticipated.
The main reasons for the turnaround are Wedge's increased confidence in his starters and his in-game managing. He's gotten more familiar with his pitchers and their situational capabilities, something he needs to improve on with his hitters.
Another factor which contributed to Seattle's lack of success early on was the amount of games they played without a day off. They played 29 games in April, more than any other team. But now that they've had four off days in May, they're playing much improved baseball. We'll see what happens during the upcoming road trip, when the M's will play nine straight games in three different cities.
If and when Eric Wedge gets a full grasp of his hitters and where they should play in the field, the offense will have the ability to score four or five runs on a daily basis and help the pitching staff immensely, one that allows less than four runs per game.
The Mariners also have the potential to drive in exponentially more runs with their new power. Out of their 40 homers this season, 16 have come with the bases empty. Part of that's bad luck, but part of it is putting the wrong guys at the wrong spot in the lineup.
When you've got two American League leaders in ERA in Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, the ceiling for success is pretty high. The Mariners aren't loaded with superstars and they don't have a $100 million payroll, but they've finally got the pieces in place to make an underdog run to the postseason. As long as Eric Wedge and the offense come around and the amount of games played levels out, things will be looking up in the Emerald City.
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