I’m no Nostradamus. Hell, I’m not even in Miss Cleo. I am to baseball psychics and prognostication what the guy who guesses weights is to the carnival. I take an educated guess, throw a dart in the dark, and hope that the result is in some way flattering.
My claim to fame is guessing that Barry Bonds would one day hold the home run record in the middle of the 1998 season, and then calling him a steroid user before the BALCO scandal. That’s it.
However, in the 2009 season, I’ve caught lightning in a bottle.
During spring training, before this column was called Casey at the Bat, before the Seattle tag had featured columns, I criticized Brandon Morrow’s decision to re-enter the bullpen. A little over two months later, the former top pick has plans to return to the starting rotation.
A week later I detailed how Jarrod Washburn may benefit from Franklin Gutierrez playing center field. Washburn has pitched his way to a 3.07 ERA with a 1.194 WHIP.
Two weeks after that, I explained that the Mariners should think about beginning negotiations with Erik Bedard. I explained that last year was probably something of a culture shock for the Canadian. About a week ago he professed his like for the city of Seattle.
In an early May article I detailed the Mariners marathon victory over the Oakland Athletics. In that article I stated that Jason Vargas had “rotation worthy stuff,” a month later he has a 2.35 ERA and a 1.200 WHIP.
On May 8 I predicted an “injury” for Carlos Silva. Albeit “apparently” a more “serious injury,” Silva went on the DL two days later.
In mid May, I plagiarized, well, the entire Seattle sports media. I wrote, “Yuniesky Betancourt shouldn’t be allowed to continue playing shortstop, or batting, if he’s going to treat the position like a T-Ball game. Betancourt has played well the last few games, but if he reverts back to his 'filling his baseball glove with dirt' ways, he should be benched in favor of Cedeno.” Betancourt is now alternating half-weeks off with Cedeno.
Then, I offered a statistical analysis of Felix Hernandez’s entire career as a starter including the catchers he’s thrown to, and how Kenji Johjima has consistently caught the worst games of any catcher. Johjima got hurt, and since then Felix has reeled off four starts with a 2-0 record, a 0.94 ERA, and a 1.151 WHIP. If you read the article, just wait, there is a “Put Guillermo Quiroz in Felix’s Hip Pocket” column on the way.
Five days later, in a far less heroic effort, I projected Rich Poythress as a guy the Mariners may target in the draft. They took him with their 51st pick.
Then my crowning prediction came true. Two days after that, I wrote a column about how Russell Branyan was being grossly under-utilized in the five hole. Two days later Branyan dug in batting second. Branyan’s remained consistent, hitting .310/.417/.655, but the Mariners are 6-2 in that time period.
Nine predictions. Nine more than I got correct last season. But screw Kenny Rogers (the singer, not the pitcher), I don’t know when to fold ‘em, and I don’t care when it is time to hold ‘em. I’m ready to let it ride.
This column isn’t meant to toot my own horn. Believe me, I’m an awful prognosticator of any subject. Work with me here though—The Mariners are going to make the playoffs.
Sure they just cracked .500. Sure the Rangers have looked very good this season. Sure, even the Angels are getting healthier after starting their season with a beat up team. The pitching probably can’t keep this up, and the team may not be able to afford any premium player trades this year.
The Mariners need two bats in my prediction to become a serious playoff contender. With the loyalties held to certain players (Griffey, Ichiro) and the difficulty to upgrade at certain positions (Beltre, Lopez, Gutierrez), the Mariners are left with very few options in terms of acquirable talent and playing time.
However, I think that there are two hitters in the organization that could make the difference.
I’ve been a long time critic of Ichiro. I’ve said he’s immensely more valuable in center field, and if he’s going to be billed as the team’s top hitter, he shouldn’t be batting leadoff. If Ichiro moved to the two hole and Branyan move to the three hole, I believe that the Mariners would score more runs, period.
Then there’s Dustin Ackley. The Mariners drafted the lefty second-overall a few days ago. Though he’s not an excellent power hitter, he’s one of the more advanced bats the draft has seen in quite some time.
There are two caveats with Ackley, one, he’s a Scott Boras client, so his signability is inherently questionable, and two, he’ll need some time in the minors before the Mariners will call him up.
There are however, some rays of hope in both departments.
With the Brewers, Jack Zduriencik was responsible for drafting several top ten picks. Prince Fielder, Mark Rogers, and Matt LaPorta signed in June. Fielder and LaPorta are Boras clients.
Rickie Weeks, not a Boras client, signed in August, but made his major league debut a month later. That was on a bad Brewers team, but Weeks wasn’t as advanced as an amateur as Ackley.
Zduriencik hasn’t necessarily been instrumental in the signing of all of those players, but at the very least he doesn’t come with the same Boras baggage as the previous Mariners general managers.
Call it wishful thinking, or call it dementia, but if the baseball gods are shining on me for once, I owe it to all Mariners fans to make this prediction, however misguided.