At the onset of this season I thought the Mariners would perform within a range: either they would lose as many or more games than they did last year, or they would finish at about .500.
Halfway in the Mariners are meeting my higher expectations, standing at exactly 35 wins and 35 losses, and looking as if they could make a push at the Rangers and Angels. Sitting 2 and a half games back of first place is a good place for a team that hasn't really found its stride or suffered major setbacks.
There are a few things I like about the team, and a few I dislike, at this point, and I'd like to touch on those now.
Things I Like:
Jackie Z. (the name I'm using for the new GM, since I can't seem to spell it, that's what I'm using) is making the right moves. He hired Don Wakamatsu, a proponent of getting on base, to lead the new-look Mariners. He signed Russel Branyan, a cast-off from so many organizations despite having a career .335 OBP (this year his OBP is .401, tops on the Mariners) and he has responded to the new responsibility by slugging 17 home runs in the first half.
Jackie Z. has finally decided what Brandon Morrow would be: a starter. The inability for the Mariners to figure out what this kid can do despite his obvious talent has been maddening, and finally they have landed on one side of the fence. The way I see it you can always find a reliever, but a front-line starter is very rare.
Felix Hernandez is 7-3 with a 2.74 ERA, finally looking dialed in after battling injury and immaturity for his first years in the majors. If he finishes the same way, he'll end up with close to 20 wins and a Cy Young award.
The return of Ken Griffey, Jr. is not only a great ticket-seller (my guess for why they brought him back in the first place), but he's a wonderful example of how to bat even when you don't have the bat speed or power you once did. His OBP is 3rd among regular starters, and even though he's hitting only .225 avg with 8 homers, his example for the younger teammates is invaluable.
What I Don't Like:
The middle infield battery of Lopez and Betancourt have the lowest OBP of the regular starters and both have averages around .240, which for Betancourt isn't surprising, but for Lopez it is. He had a great season last year and the Mariners were hoping he'd build on that to become a top of the order guy. Typically the middle of the infield isn't reserved for great hitters, but great fielders, and in that regard these two are some of the best in the league, but they'll need to swing the bat better to keep their jobs.
Carlos Silva is awful, just bloody awful. He's been nothing but terrible every since he was signed, and the best news of the new season was that he was going on the 60-day DL. At least now the Mariners won't be tempted to run him out there every 5th day and give up 7 or 8 runs to scrub hitters. He's an older CC Sabathia, except without the skills.
Endy Chavez going out is really, really bad news. He was a great fielder in left and had a good start to the season at the plate. Without him the Mariners are going to have to play Griffey and Balentien in the field more often, and neither has the defensive qualities or the speed on the basepaths that Chavez did. Not good at all.
The next month will be critical to the Mariners, not just for this season, but seasons in the future. Depending on how well they hold up against tough competition (upcoming series include the Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers, and Detroit) and what players become available via trade, we may see the Mariners decide whether they are going for it, or saving up for the future.
If the Mariners stay around .500 or dive down a bit, we'll probably see Jarrod Washburn and Adrian Beltre shipped out for prospects and Russel Branyan taking over at third base with Mike Carp and Mike Sweeney platooning at first. Washburn would fetch a good price considering his performance this year and the fact that he's a lefty with playoff experience. Beltre is a Gold Glove talent at third base with a decent amount of pop, which could get some attention by a team needing to solidify infield defense.
However, if the Mariners get on a hot streak, we could see them ship off a couple of minor prospects for a reliever and/or fifth starter, possible even another outfielder to bolster the offense. The right piece could launch them ahead of the Angels and Rangers and into the playoffs.
Personally, I'm all for dumping expiring contracts for prospects and building for the next few years, with the plans Jackie Z. has and the moves he's already made I think we're in for a good time in future seasons.