Seattle Mariners: 5 Easy Ways the Club Can Improve Down the Stretch
The Seattle Mariners are hanging around in contention in a year when everyone thought they'd be historically terrible again.
There are certainly flashes of that 2010 offense at times. Enough to drive you, me, and manager Eric Wedge a little batty. However, there have been enough flashes of improvement to get the team over .500 and within arm's reach of the Texas Rangers, causing relative excitement among the fan base.
After going on that ridiculous stretch of winning, a surge that put them in the position they are now, the team has stumbled a bit lately. The Mariners have only won four of their last 10 games, and six of 13 since the calender flipped to June.
If the Mariners were 10 games over .500, in first place and still red hot, we could surely go with the "if it ain't broke" adage. They're not, though. They're having a rougher time, and the longer they have a rougher time, the more it favors Texas and, to a degree, the Angels.
The good news is, there are a few easy things the team can do to immediately get better. They don't even have to punt the farm to do them. So let's explore those options, shall we?
Call-Up Dustin Ackley
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I'm just going to kick things off with the most obvious move.
Ackley will probably be up for either the Nationals or Phillies series. He's past the point of earning a full year of service and other teams have started calling their kids up, so he should be pretty close to clearing the super-two worries.
I have to wonder why the team is still waiting. Sure, they used the excuse that his defense could use further seasoning. Sure, they used the excuse that the current big club's chemistry was too strong to mess with.
The time is now. Stop with the excuses. Stop with the reasons. Call up Ackley now.
Oh, and don't you dare only play him every other day ala Mike Carp, Greg Halman, Mike Wilson, et al. This team desperately needs his stick and on-base skills.
Shuffle Infield When Ackley Comes Up
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Adam Kennedy will be Ackley's backup at second once he comes up, but Kennedy simply played too well to have his time reduced too greatly.
Jack Wilson could be the odd man out, but perhaps the club would be better served to dump Luis Rodriguez instead. L-Rod can play all over the infield, but so can Kennedy. The one spot Kennedy can't play is short, but that's where Wilson fits in.
When Chone Figgins or Brendan Ryan have a day off, Rodriguez plays. The problem is that Rodriguez hasn't produced at the plate. I'm not going to say that his Triple-A improvements from a year ago were all smoke and mirrors, as he hasn't had a chance to play much.
Perhaps the lack of reps has done him in. Regardless, the team doesn't have a need for this many infielders when Ackley comes up, and Wilson is owed more money while providing better defense at short.
Plus, while Wilson's trade value isn't much, it's still higher than Rodriguez's will ever be.
Back to Kennedy. With Figgins quietly starting to get better with the bat, you don't want to make him a part-time player. If Figgins gets his game back in order, there's value. However, he should still probably get a day a week off, along with Ackley and Smoak, all being filled by Kennedy to keep his bat in the lineup somewhat regularly.
The dog days are coming, and keeping a guy like Kennedy sharp, while not sacrificing Ackley's playing time too much, is a wise idea.
Put Mike Carp in the Lineup Every Day
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Mike Carp forced his way onto the major league roster. No one thinks he's an above-average big league left fielder, but neither is Carlos Peguero.
Peguero has a horrid plate approach. We've seen how far he can hit the ball, even when the bat that hit it exploded, but we can't let that cloud the bigger picture.
Carp was red-hot down in Tacoma, and while the pitching in the big leagues is tougher, there's reason to believe his approach would pay bigger dividends than Peguero's. Instead, Carp gets a DH start every couple of days, which removes one of the better bats for the M's this season, Jack Cust.
Yeah, majestic homers are awesome. Unfortunately, Peguero is not putting this team in a better position to win than Carp and Cust.
Stop Pinch Running for Justin Smoak
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Justin Smoak isn't a speed demon. It's possible that he's one of the slowest guys on the team, but I haven't heard the results of his sprint with Jack Cust.
Why, though, does Wedge insist on pinch-running for his best upside hitter late in games?
I know Jack Wilson looked terrific getting forced out on that fielder's choice last night, but I'm pretty sure Smoak could have done the same.
This move has paid off in the past. Sort of. I haven't kept an official tally, but I believe that's the fifth time Wedge has made this move, and three of the previous four preceded an extra base hit that John Olerud could have scored on.
With the runner at first base with a force play on, this move just doesn't make a ton of sense. No player on the team is going to be out that fielder's choice. If he gets to second and you're within one run? Okay, roll the dice.
I'm spending way more words on this than I should, but taking Smoak out of a game that could potentially go to extras, essentially swapping his bat out for Jack Wilson's, is dumb. Stop doing it.
Use the Kids, Don't Send Them Away
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Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that this still isn't a great team.
While the Mariners wouldn't be in terrible shape if they were in other divisions, the two games back of Texas they're currently at is a far better situation than if they were in any other division.
What this means is, yes, the M's have a shot to make the playoffs. They may be just good enough with the rest of the division being bad enough to squeak in. The clock could also strike 12, though, and they'd go into a deep slide.
The 2011 Mariners aren't a playoff caliber team. Mortgaging the future to add one or two moderate pieces won't make them much better.
Of course, I'm not actually worried about this. Under Bill Bavasi's watch, I'd wake up every morning scared to death to hit the blogs and news sources. Under Jack Zduriencik, I know the right process will be employed to get good results.
It may not be this year, but they're getting there. Don't freak out when the Mariners don't make any major moves at the deadline.