Mariners Swing The Bat 63 Times, Lose Anyway

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There are a bunch of angles you could take in recapping this one. You have the Mariners losing and getting swept because they couldn't score runs. You have Felix Hernandez turning in something less than his best effort when his team badly needed him to step up. You have the Mariners facing something of a crossroads as they drift to the very fringes of the race. You have the Braves making an argument for the best pitching staff in baseball. And you have the Mariners getting swept in a series in which they scored eight runs, a few days after their NL sister squad scored eight runs in a series and swept the Indians. And there are other angles too, I'm sure. There are more potential angles here than there are on a protractor.

But most of those angles are depressing, aside from the Braves ones, which are irrelevant. And more, talking about Felix's inconsistency or the lineup's struggles is hardly interesting anymore. Felix has still been really really good, even if he hasn't been perfect. And we know the lineup needs help. The lineup has needed help since 2008. There are few members who can really really hit, there are a handful of members who can hit all right, and there are too many members who need to be hitting more than they are. The Mariners have scored the fewest runs in baseball. They have not produced, and we've been aware of their problems for ages.

I'm not saying the struggles of the lineup aren't worth talking about. They are. The offense is this team's biggest problem, and the main reason why it doesn't currently occupy a playoff spot. I just don't feel like talking about the lousy run production today. We talk about it all the time. Why wouldn't we? It sucks. But I need a break. I need to think about something else. So I'm going to talk about Dustin Ackley's home run.

You can watch the homer here. For some reason, the clip isn't embedding properly. It isn't the most majestic of dingdongs. Ackley puts a quick, line drive swing on the ball. He swats it into right, and it escapes into the first row. It was pretty much the shortest possible home run that could have been hit to that area. But it was still a home run. And more, it was a home run against Jonny Venters.

It was the second home run Venters has allowed in his Major League career, spanning 125 appearances. Venters is a lefty, and perhaps the most dominant lefty reliever in the world. Coming into the day, he held lefties to a career .499 OPS, with 39% strikeouts. When lefties have managed to put the ball in play against him, more than three-fifths of them have stayed on the ground. Venters is about as good as it gets - maybe not against righties, but certainly against lefties.

And Ackley took him deep. Ackley took some close pitches, worked a 3-1 count, and turned on a low-inside sinker. It wasn't enough to really bring the Mariners back into the game, since they only had four outs left to erase a two-run deficit and Craig Kimbrel looming in the Atlanta bullpen, but it was enough to snap me out of a half-nap on the couch. I expected Ackley to have nearly immediate success in the Majors, but I didn't expect him to have immediate success against some of the game's best southpaws.

You can add Venters to the list that already includes Michael Dunn, Cole Hamels, George Sherrill, and Randy Choate. These are the five lefties that Ackley has faced in the Majors to date. He's batted nine times, collecting three singles, a double, a triple, a homer, and a walk. You can't learn much from a sample of nine plate appearances, but for Ackley to have this much success in his first nine PAs against big league southpaws - can you imagine Carlos Peguero doing this, and looking this good while doing it? Even Jim Thome never really had the ability to hit lefties real well. Ackley is off to a most encouraging start.

So often, we've had to remind ourselves that, while it would be nice to see the Mariners make a run for the playoffs, this season is more about the development and establishment of tomorrow's core. More about watching for signs of improvement from the critical youth. Right now, Justin Smoak is caught in a frustrating slump. But Ackley is tearing it up. Already he's gone above and beyond reasonable expectations, and his homer off Venters today is right up there with his debut single and his first home run in terms of significant, meaningful moments. Today, Ackley did what few people can do, and on an otherwise dreary Wednesday evening, that's a fun thing to sit back and think about.

I'm not going to write any bullet holes today. I didn't make many notes, and besides, writing a bunch of paragraphs about this game would only make me and you think about this game. Maybe you want to think about this game, and that's fine, but I don't, because I've thought about this game dozens of times before, and today I'm not in the mood. I don't want to feel down during a development season. I'd prefer to look at the positives whenever I can, and this afternoon, an already productive Dustin Ackley hit a homer off Jonny Venters. That's pretty God damn sweet.

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