Seattle Mariners 2011: Michael Pineda and 5 Reasons for Strong Start

Barrett HansenAnalyst IIJune 11, 2011

Seattle Mariners 2011: Michael Pineda and 5 Reasons for Strong Start

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    SEATTLE, WA - APRIL 12:  L to R:  Justin Smoak #17, Ichiro Suzuki #51, Michael Saunders #55, and Ryan Langerhans #12 of the Seattle Mariners celebrate after defeating the Toronto Blue Jays 3-2 at Safeco Field on April 12, 2011 in Seattle, Washington. (Pho
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    The Seattle Mariners weren't supposed to be two-and-a-half games out of first in the second week of June.

    They were supposed to be in the cellar of the AL West, looking up at the A's, Angels and defending AL champion Rangers.

    But here they are on June 11th, two games over .500 and within striking distance of the Texas Rangers.

    Here are five reasons why the Mariners strong start in 2011 is not a fluke.

5. Justin Smoak

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    SEATTLE - MAY 06:  Justin Smoak #17 of the Seattle Mariners bats against the Chicago White Sox at Safeco Field on May 6, 2011 in Seattle, Washington. The Mariners won 3-2. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Justin Smoak has enjoyed a quietly strong start to the 2011 season.

    The cornerstone of the Cliff Lee deal is currently only batting .249/.350/.468, but has slugged 10 home runs and knocked in a team-high 34 runs from the third spot in the order.

    Smoak's average leaves a lot to be desired, but his pop has been a welcome addition to a Mariners lineup that hasn't featured a legitimate power threat since the days of Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez.

4. Lack of Injuries

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    PEORIA, AZ - MARCH 01:  Franklin Gutierrez #21 of the Seattle Mariners warms up before the game against the Texas Rangers during spring training at Peoria Stadium on March 1, 2011 in Peoria, Arizona.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
    Harry How/Getty Images

    Seattle has been blessed with relatively good health so far in 2011. 

    With the exception of Franklin Gutierrez, who began the year on the DL, the Mariners have yet to see a key player go down with an injury.

    Now with Guti healthy, Seattle is at full strength. If they can limit their misfortune to bumps and bruises for the remainder of the year they will have a leg up on the injury-prone Texas Rangers, who are virtually guaranteed to lose either Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz or Ian Kinsler for at least a couple weeks at a time

3. Minor League Call-Ups

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    SEATTLE - JUNE 02:  Carlos Peguero #8 of the Seattle Mariners crosses home plate after hitting his second home run of the game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Safeco Field on June 2, 2011 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Even though Carlos Peguero and Greg Halman haven't been on the team all season, they've made quite an impact. 

    Inserting fresh bats, especially into a veteran-heavy lineup like the Mariners featured on Opening Day, can really energize a clubhouse.

    Rookies play with more enthusiasm and zeal, which can become contagious to the older, more complacent vets on the team.

    The Mariner's youth movement has produced two solid outfielders thus far. Carlos Peguero is a great fielder but is only hitting .221, which is still better than Bradley and comes without the headache.

    Greg Halman has gotten a handful of starts and has gone seven for his first 11, good for a stout .636 batting average. He has been a nice spark this past week and can hopefully turn his hot start into sustained major league success.

2. Timely Hitting

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    CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 08: Jack Wilson #2 of the Seattle Mariners (L) congratulates teammate Adam Kennedy #4 after both scored runs in the 10th inning against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field on June 8, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The Mariners defe
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    As of June 11th, Seattle is the only team in the majors with a run differential of exactly zero. 

    Of their 64 games, 24 have been decided by one run. Seattle is 14-11 in those games. 

    With such a reliable pitching staff behind them, Mariner hitters are permitted a more carefree plate approach knowing that their pitchers can consistently put zeros up on the scoreboard if they fail to score right away.

    As a result, as innings pass and the pressure builds on the opposition to find ways to crack Seattle's stud rotation and rock-solid bullpen, Mariner hitters know they just need to string together a couple of hits and the game is theirs. 

    Even though they certainly have had a little luck on their side so far, the confidence they have gained will go a long way in close games down the road when the pressure builds.

1. Michael Pineda

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    SEATTLE - MAY 04:  Starting pitcher Michael Pineda #36 of the Seattle Mariners pitches against the Texas Rangers at Safeco Field on May 4, 2011 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Rookie Michael Pineda has been the best pitcher on a loaded rotation that also features Justin Vargas, Erik Bedard, Doug Fister and Cy Young-winner Felix Hernandez.

    The staff as a whole has the best WHIP, most quality starts, second-best ERA, second-best BAA, third-most strikeouts and second-fewest walks in the American League.

    Pineda's 2.33 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 3.45 K/BB ratio are all best amongst starters. Pretty impressive for a rookie.

    Even though he is technically the fifth starter, Pineda has established himself as a second ace and a legitimate AL ROY candidate.