From Thirty-Nine Games Out Last Year, To First Place In 2009

Gary G.Correspondent IMay 5, 2009

CHICAGO - APRIL 29: Ichiro Suzuki #51 of the Seattle Mariners hits the ball against the Chicago White Sox on April 29, 2009 at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois. The White Sox defeated the Mariners 6-3.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Seven months ago, the Mariners were sitting at the bottom of the American League West, thirty-nine games out of the division lead. Now? They are 15-11 and leading their division.

Granted it is just May and we are just 26 games into a 162 game season, it is a good sign that they are doing well.

Over the end of last season and winter, the Mariners shed many parts to the core of their team.

First baseman Richie Sexson, outfielder Raul Ibanez, closer J.J. Putz, reliever Sean Green and outfielder Jeremy Reed were moved or left in free agency, while they acquired many key players to their 2009 team.

When the Mariners traded Putz, Green and Reed to the Mets, they received outfielder Endy Chavez, pitcher Aaron Heilman, outfielder Franklin Gutierrez (from the Indians), along with various prospects.

They then flipped Heilman to the Cubs in return for infielder Ronny Cedeno and pitcher Garrett Olson.

The Mariners chose not to make any changes with their rotation for the most part, keeping Felix Hernandez, Erik Bedard, Carlos Silva and Jarrod Washburn together.

While Silva has continued to bomb after signing a four-year, $48 million deal prior to last season, Hernandez, Bedard and Washburn have held the fort down.

Hernandez is 4-1 with a 3.38 ERA in six starts, and is tied for second in the American League with 45 strikeouts. The left hand throwing Bedard has put up solid numbers as well, going 2-1 with a 2.61 ERA in five starts for the M's. Washburn, arguably the biggest surprise is 3-1 with a 2.97 ERA in five starts.

The steal of the year for the M's could perhaps be their first baseman. The Mariners signed Russell Branyan to a one-year, $1.4 million deal this offseason.

When Seattle's General Manager Jack Zduriencik stated that he had 400 to 500 at-bats in mind for Branyan as a regular player, he wasn't expecting it. "Over my career, I haven't been given that opportunity. It's been something that I dreamt of," Branyan said.

That signing has since paid off. Branyan is arguably the team's best hitter as we head into the middle of May. He is hitting .320 with seven homers, 15 RBIs and 17 runs scored.

Franklin Gutierrez, who the M's acquired from the Indians, has played very good as well. He is hitting .303 with three homers, 13 RBIs and 13 runs scored. He has also shown that he has a great glove in centerfield.

The Mariners' also looked to their past for help at the plate. On February 19th, 39-year old Ken Griffey Jr. returned to Seattle. In 63 at-bats this season, Griffey is hitting under the Mendoza line with just a .190 average, two home runs and five RBIs.

"A New Day, A New Way" was the deemed the team's new slogan to signify their rebuilding ways. The M's have many young players to be excited about this year and many years to come.

Overall, I like the direction that this franchise is headed. Jack Zduriencik has done all the right things so far as general manager of this team. He immediately got to work, hiring Athletics bench coach Don Wakamatsu, orchestrating the J.J. Putz deal, and beginning the overhaul that this franchise desperately needed.