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Series Preview: Seattle Mariners @ New York Yankees

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Seattle: 13-16
Yankees:14-16

GAMES

Game 1: Erik Bedard* vs Chien-Ming Wang
Game 2: Felix Hernandez vs Mike Mussina
Game 3: Carlos Silva vs Darrell Rasner

Wang has significantly upped his strikeout rate to start the year, but at the expense of some of his groundballs since you generally need to pitch higher in the zone to get K's. It will be interesting to follow the rest of the year to see if this new trend holds or not and what it ends up doing to his homerun rate if so.This is a big match-up for the Ms to set the tone of the series. A win here and a sweep is definitely possible. A loss and you worry about dropping the series.

Mike Mussina looks done. He cannot strike anyone out and hitters are making solid contact against his stuff. He's not going to walk many hitters so that means he's going to be around the strike zone with hittable slop. His is a guy the Mariners need to make pay and, for once, give the King some healthy support.

You might remember Rasner as the guy we faced in consecutive series against New York back in May of '07. He pitched a combined 10.2 innings, yielding 10 hits, 3 runs, 5 walks and 5 Ks. At least it's a hell of a lot better than our track record against Matt DeSalvo.

Likely Starters:
C Chad Moeller/Jose Molina
1 Jason Giambi*
2 Robinson Cano*
3 Morgan Ensberg
S Derek Jeter
L Johnny Damon*
C Melky Cabrera^
R Bobby Abreu*
D Hideki Matsui*

No Posada and no A-Rod. This is a lineup ripe for the picking by our top three. I'm not sure this lineup is better than the one we'll be running out there.

If you want to argue pure talent, I'm taking Johjima, Beltre, Raul and Ichiro over NYY's offering. They have Abreu, Cano, and Jeter over us. I call Sexson/Clement and Giambi/Matsui an overall push. And even their advantage up the middle with Cano and Jeter hasn't been there so far in 2008 as each have been worse, Cano markedly, than our counterpart.

CONTEXT

Congratulations to Bill Bavasi, at least one of your goals has worked out thus far. The Mariners employ one of the best starting rotations in baseball. And for as much as you want to point out luck with Silva, Wash and Tits, I can point to unluck with Bedard. This is a rotation that has been, and will likely continue to be an overall asset on the year. If the bullpen can straighten out their control issues, and I still have confidence that they will, they'll go back to being an asset as well since they're almost universally staffed with pitchers who possess stuff. There's also considerable above replacement depth for the staff in terms of Baek and Dickey in the rotation and plenty of bullpen help. This is certainly a pitching staff that can run a 105-110 FIP+. The problem is, and always has been, the offense.

So what of the offense? There's two new members on it, and while that's neat and everything, doubly so because they're two of our favorite prospects and they're young, which this offense critically needed, is it enough? My initial reaction was no, they still need help, but because I'm not a moron, I gave it more than just passing thought. Specifically, go position-by-position.

Johjima I'm sure isn't going to be this bad all year; given that he was a top 10 offensive catcher the past two seasons, I expect a drop off due to age, but he probably won't crater into a black hole, especially with more time off now from Burke and Clement. No, it's more likely Johjima is a roughly average catcher bat going forward. We knew Sexson wasn't going to stay near .900 on the OPS, but even with the slump, he's back to just under .800. If he can stay around that mark, he's fine, his EqA is .275 right now to .277 average for 1B. Lopez I'll cover in more detail below, but even if he maintains his current line, he's above average at 2B. Ditto Betancourt who I actually expect to improve a bit. Beltre is obviously a monster right now and considering he's always been a slow starter, there's nothing to say he doesn't keep it up all year.

Even with the cool off of late, Raul is still good with the bat, even for a corner outfielder. It's May so Ichiro should be going back to being Ichiro! and he actually could be on his way to one of his better seasons. His BB:K rate is even (best-ever) marking a career high in isoD and his isoP is back over .100. He's hitting tons of balls on the ground, which is good for him, and he's making contact at the best rate of his career. All signs point to him having an above average Ichiro year. Wlad is almost certain to be below average as anything more than a .750 OPS in 2008 is wild fantasy hope, but that won't be that far off of average, and as long as he stays above .700, with the SafeCo field adjustment, he's tolerable out in RF. Finally, at DH, I'm assuming that's going to be the primary home of Jeff Clement for now and his projections look rosy.

What do you have when you add it all? A whole bunch of players slightly above average for their position. But that's the key, no more Wilkerson's, no more early 2007 Raul and Richie, no more early 2008 (please god be true) Vidro. Sure, we all want them to bring in a big sexy bat. Someone who could threaten a four figure OPS. Many of us grew up with Griffey, Edgar and or A-Rod so it's still troubling to us that there's no giant middle of the order presence. But overall team OPS is what we really care about, and if you what you prefer is consistency (and you should), it's better to have a lineup of nine .800 OPS hitters than a lineup of six .700 OPS guys surrounding three 1.000 OPS bats. Assuming one of Johjima/Vidro gets going enough to resemble 2007, this will be a lineup that top to bottom has no black hole in it and has several players above their positional average. What do you get with 9 guys above average? Why, you get a team OPS+ above 100. I'm not saying it's going to happen, but I am saying that I feel a lot better about this team's chances to score runs over the long haul than I did on Monday.

Speaking of Jose Lopez, whether or not it's a mandate from the coaches rather than from himself, his approach is radically different, and better, this year and it's not an early mirage. Although his pitches seen per PA is trending down from the ridiculous high start he got, it's still much better than before. But it's not just initial patience that has improved. Lopez's instruction to try to hit the other way infuriated us in 2006 and 2007 because all of Lopez's strength lied in pulling the ball. If he tried to pull everything, he'd make less contact but he'd at least get his fair share of extra-base hits. He would have been expected to put up something like a .275/.310/.475 line, which in SafeCo with his average+ defense would make him one of the best 2B in baseball.

Instead, because that approach would lead to more strikeouts and this front office hates seeing strikeouts, they pushed hitting the ball the other way more, just make contact more. They wanted Jose to turn into the Ryan Franklin of hitting. Well, he did, and, it sucked. His popups and weak groundouts to second base went up exponentially, while the strikeouts did dip a little. Problem is, this capped his potential line at around .285/.315/.400. So what's improved this year? For one, Lopez is doing a better job of balancing pulling the ball for power and going the other way in 2-strike defensive counts. The power isn't quite back to what we want to see, and what Lopez is capable of, somewhere around a .150 isoP, but the strikeouts are way down, cut by more than half, despite working deeper counts. The groundballs and infield flies are at career lows and most importantly so when Lopez goes the other way, it's not an automatic weak grounder to 2B as it used to be. Instead, more of those are balls he's getting in the air and they're going further than in previous years.

Lopez is on the verge of being able to get some extra-base hits to right field as well as left field and when that happens his slugging will rise and with that, and his newfound insistence on working deeper counts, his walk rate will climb. Jose Lopez appears on the verge of, not really a breakout, but a reversion back to early 2006 performance level and this time with the tools to sustain it.

THIS SERIES BROUGHT TO YOU BY:

Three Philosophers
Brewery Ommegang. Cooperstown, NY

Three Philosophers has an interesting story behind it. From the brewery: "Three Philosophers is a strong ale brewed by Brewery Ommegang in response to a home brewer’s description of his dream beer. Realbeer.com hosted a contest called "Create a Great Beer." Brewery Ommegang was chosen by Realbeer.com to brew the Belgian-style ale for the winning essayist. Noel Blake, a home brewer from Portland wrote the winning description for what his "dream beer" would be like."

This is one of those beers that can sneak up and knock your ass out. It's at just under 10% and tastes nothing like it. The visual is evident from the picture, but the aroma is a sweet liquor smell, almost grenadine-like. The flavor is a bit drier with some darker fruits playing lead and a some malt and chocolate making an appearance. It's a really nice melody.