Let's be honest. The first week of the Seattle Mariners' season has been a massive disappointment.
Thus far, the offense has underwhelmed and the pitching has struggled. The defense has been stellar, but the team can't swing a bat or strike a batter out; therefore, it can't solve the current Mariners dilemma.
As several fans and writers have correctly pointed out, it's too early to abandon ship. This team has talent at several key positions, the best young pitcher in the American League, and a ballpark that is built to accommodate its playing style.
As the Mariners prepare for the first home-stand of 2010, it's time to reflect on what we have learned from the first week of the season.
I have been lucky enough to watch about 80 percent of the Mariners 2010 season, and without a doubt one performance has impressed me more than any other: the defense of Franklin Gutierrez.
On Thursday, Gutierrez made a beautiful running catch on a Kevin Kouzmanoff fly ball that saved a run and ended the first inning.
On Friday, Gutierrez made a diving catch to rob Julio Borbon of extra bases in the third inning. He saved his most spectacular catch, however, for Saturday’s game against the Rangers.
Up by one run in the bottom of the ninth inning (after singling in the go-ahead run in the top of the inning), Gutierrez made an unbelievable leaping catch on a deep fly ball from Elvis Andrus.
If you haven't seen the catch, go to the Mariners web site and watch it. It was amazing.
Gutierrez has been a human highlight reel through the first week of the season, and it seems that the media has started to notice his impact on the Mariners success.
Recent articles from Yahoo! and ESPN have both recognized the Mariners' defensive contributions—headlined by Gutierrez in center field.
If he continues at this pace, he should be able to surpass an aging Torii Hunter (a 2009 Gold Glove winner) to win his first career Gold Glove.
Entering the 2010 season, the Seattle Mariners had an apparent lack of power. As I previously discussed, the Mariners had no legitimate power threat at the core of their lineup (see last week's article on the cleanup spot). Thus far, the Mariners have lived up (or played down) to their power-hitting expectations.
Opening Day cleanup hitter Milton Bradley is 1-21 (.048 batting average), while other potential power hitters are struggling to find their stride. Both Jose Lopez and Ken Griffey Jr. are yet to hit home runs.
As a team, the Mariners have managed only 44 hits (.223 batting average), including only 10 extra base hits (22 percent). To compare, division rival Oakland Athletics have poured in 59 hits (.278 batting average), including 19 extra base hits (32 percent).
Here is an example of the Mariners woes thus far. On Saturday, the Mariners beat the Texas Rangers 4-3 in dramatic fashion. In all, the Mariners knocked 12 base hits, but only one was an extra base hit (a Rob Johnson double).
To put it more clearly, the Mariners hit one double and eleven singles. No triples. No home runs. One double. Eleven singles.
On Opening Day, both the Yankees and Red Sox belted 12 hits. The result? Nine runs scored by the Red Sox and seven by the Yankees. Combined, the two hit 15 singles and nine extra base hits.
Compare Opening Day to the Mariners 11 singles and one extra base hit on Saturday and it’s easy to see why the Mariners are struggling to produce runs. Every team needs the threat of instant run production via extra base hits; singles will only carry a team so far.
It will be interesting to see if the Mariners make a move for a power hitter later in the year, because right now they are severely lacking a power threat in their lineup.
In 2008, Milton Bradley had an above-average season in Texas. He was named to the All-Star team, and as a result landed a fat, Silva-esque contract from the Chicago Cubs (go Jim Hendry!). Hendry has already labeled the contract a mistake, and subsequently shipped Bradley to the Mariners in exchange for (you guessed it) Carlos Silva.
Milton Bradley’s problems in Chicago are well-documented. The fans blame Bradley’s lack of production, the Cubs blame Bradley’s lack of effort, while Bradley blames the fans, the front office, the manager, the media, and most likely the hot dog vendors. In sum, he blames anyone within 10 miles of the ballpark.
The most recognized cause of Bradley’s failure in Chicago, despite a number of vicious accusations on either side, is that the Chicago fans, team, and media simply expected too much from Milton Bradley.
This pressure, combined with a near-certain regression to his average career statistics, doomed Bradley’s time in Chicago.
In his first game with the Cubs, Bradley batted cleanup between Derrek Lee (20 HR in 2008) and Aramis Ramirez (29 HR in 2008). Bradley underperformed, and was consequently heckled, pressured, and moved around the lineup.
The Mariners may be following that same fatal line of action. In his first week with the Mariners, Bradley was slotted in the cleanup spot, and, just like in Chicago, failed to live up to the fans’ expectations.
If there is hope for Milton Bradley in Seattle, it comes from his situational stats from 2009. Although Bradley hit an abysmal .257 in 2009, his numbers looked better (and worse) at different points in the lineup.
Batting cleanup, Bradley hit just .179 in 19 games played. Batting fifth, Bradley hit just .217 in 32 games played. Conversely, his numbers were better in lineup slots with less pressure on the hitters. Batting second, Bradley hit .326 in 24 games played, and batting sixth he hit .269 in nine games played.
It’s no wonder that Bradley failed to impress batting out of the fourth and fifth spots in the lineup. For the Mariners’ sake, let’s hope that he can turn that trend around.
Anyone who watched the Mariners’ opening game understands what kind of an impact Ichiro Suzuki and Chone Figgins have on the Seattle Mariners’ offense.
In that game, Ichiro and Figgins combined to get on base four out of ten plate appearances, stealing three bases and scoring three of the Mariners’ five runs.
Their impact on the Mariners’ offense is clearly tangible, as their on-base percentage directly correlates to the Mariners’ run-scoring capabilities.
Mike Salk, of 710 ESPN Radio Seattle had an interesting argument, however, that posited that the duo’s effect on the offense had intangible benefits as well.
Ichiro and Figgins are both experienced base-stealers, and both have lightning speed. Salk noted that, when Ichiro and Figgins are on base, the defense has a higher tendency to quicken defensive motions, charge ground balls, rush throws, and, subsequently, commit errors.
The opening game certainly spoke to this, as the A’s committed two throwing errors while trying to catch Chone Figgins stealing, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out for the rest of the season.
The bottom line is that, due to the Mariners lack of power and tendency to hit for singles instead of extra base hits (previously discussed), the M’s need their leadoff hitters on base to consistently score runs.
If Ichiro and Figgins get out, followed by Kotchman and Gutierrez singles, the Mariners have not scored a run. If, however, Ichiro and/or Figgins are on base for those two hits, the Mariners have put a run or two on the board.
With a lack of hitting at the bottom of the lineup, it is clear that the Mariners’ 2010 offense will depend on Ichiro and Figgins; for better or worse.
As an initial disclaimer, let me state that I like Ian Snell and Ryan Rowland-Smith...as four and five starters.
Watching Snell and Rowland-Smith, it is clear that they both feature average to above-average skill sets (along with the ability to succeed or implode at the drop of a hat). This volatility is acceptable at the back end of a rotation, as your staff aces should have already taken care of business in the first three games.
However, if you are relying on pitchers like Snell and Rowland-Smith as your second and third options, starting pitching may cost you dearly.
Any Mariners fan or pundit will tell you that Cliff Lee and Erik Bedard can’t return from injury fast enough. Felix Hernandez has looked spectacular thus far, but he has received little, if any, support from the rest of the starting pitching rotation.
It is possible that Snell and/or Rowland-Smith could turn in an excellent 2010 campaign. Unlike starters Doug Fister and Jason Vargas, who have a proverbial ceiling of expected results, either Snell or Rowland-Smith could pitch admirably if certain kinks are worked out of their performance.
Given this possibility, however, having Snell and Rowland-Smith as second and third starters is simply not in the recipe for a successful ballclub. The Mariners opening series went Felix, Loss, Loss, Loss, and sadly there will be more series like that in the future.
With no prospective help from Triple-A (the only notable names in Triple-A are former softball pitchers Garrett Olson and Luke French), the Mariners are going all-in on the health of Cliff Lee and Erik Bedard.
If both pitchers do not return to form, the Mariners’ 2010 season could turn into a tailspin by early June.
Sound off with what you agree/disagree on!