The Seattle Mariners are not good. They aren't bad, probably, depending on what you think of the young hitters on the major-league roster and the young pitchers on the minor-league rosters, but it'd be difficult to argue that they're any better than mediocre. The bullpen walks too many hitters, the rotation past Felix is decent at best, and the position player corps is below average at practically every position. If you want to be really depressed, go and check out Fangraphs' positional power rankings and have a look at where the Mariners land on each list. Spoiler alert: They're in the bottom seven at literally every position except 2B, where they're 18th.
You know how we like to make fun of the Astros? So far, the Mariners have been ranked below the Astros at six out of eight positions. Yeah, the projections think Kyle Seager is going to regress by 1.5 WAR, and that Franklin Gutierrez is going to forget how to play defense, and that Justin Smoak is going to get 400 PA while hitting poorly, and maybe those things aren't fair to predict. Still, the point stands. This is not a good year to bet on the Seattle Mariners.
And yet, every so often, we see something that makes us think it is. Every so often Erasmo Ramirez spins off a magnificent outing, or the relievers come in and no-hit the opposing team for five innings, or Justin Smoak cranks a dinger to the opposite field, and it seems like the playoffs are within reach. Like so many of their players, the Mariners show flashes that make you stop and think, hey, maybe. You never know. Baseball, right?
Today was one of those days.
OK, so the Mariners won 6-5 in spring training against an Athletics team that wasn't at full strength. Maybe that's not much of an achievement. But there are meaningless spring training victories, and then there are less meaningless spring training victories, and today was one of the latter. This game wasn't won by AAA-bound players like Ronny Paulino and Carlos Peguero against AAA-bound pitchers you've never heard of. It was won by the Mariners' young hitters (and Michael Morse), who hit well against major-league pitchers who were good last year. There's an important difference there. Somewhere in the gulf between Mike Jacobs and Dustin Ackley lies hope.
Today, all of the right players looked good. Dustin Ackley had two singles. Justin Smoak had a single and a double, which were both by all accounts quite well-struck. Michael Saunders had a line drive almost-double and a walk. Michael Morse had a walk and a towering home run. Jesus Montero had a double and a home run, except Coco Crisp caught the home run. Even Brad Miller and Eric Thames got in on the action with a double apiece. Most of these hits came against pitchers who were pretty good last year. There was only one error, and it was a throwing error made by a pitcher. This was a good game for the Mariners. Inspiring, even.
But it's a blessing and a curse, this winning-in-spring-training business. It's fun while it lasts, and I'm sure no one here would rather see the Mariners lose in spring training than win. On the other hand, now that we've started out the spring with a .700 winning percentage, things can only go downhill. Some Mariners will get hurt, and some Mariners will struggle, and in the end they probably won't be good. They almost certainly won't be good.
But hey. Maybe. You never know. Baseball, right?
- Hisashi Iwakuma turned in a decidedly poor performance, allowing three runs in five innings. It was worse than the results make it sound. Iwakuma is at his best when he gets strikeouts, limits walks, and in particular generates lots and lots of ground balls. In his last outing, on March 13th, Iwakuma got a remarkable 12 ground balls out of 14 balls in play. Today was not nearly as good: only six out of his twenty balls in play were grounders. He was also a little wild, with two walks and an HBP to go against zero strikeouts. Honestly, he got pretty lucky. I'm not worried, though. Iwakuma is what he is and he's shown that his repertoire still works in other outings this spring. It was a poor performance by an important player, but it wasn't an alarmingly poor one.
- The bullpen was a mixed bag. Oliver Perez didn't have his best day on the mound, and Lucas Luetge gave up a ground rule double to a guy wearing glasses. Stephen Pryor did well enough for himself, but the reliever I really want to talk about is Carson Smith. Smith is one of only a few pitchers to have performed well in minor league hitter's haven High Desert and is seen as a strong relief candidate going forward, relying on a funky sidearm delivery and a wipeout slider to get results. He's had a really impressive spring to date, striking out six in six innings and inducing a lot of ground balls. If the Mariners trade relievers at the deadline, which they probably will, we could see Smith in the majors as soon as late 2013.
- Michael Morse hit another home run. This isn't really a surprise--hitting home runs is kind of his thing--but this one was remarkable for its absurd height. Check it out here and prepare to pick your jaw up from off the floor. Incidentally, Morse now leads all of baseball with six spring training home runs, and the Mariners as a team now lead all of baseball with forty-four. Maybe he's not going to be as valuable as Jaso, but man, if he stays healthy it is going to be really fun to watch a right-handed hitter conquer Safeco.
- Jesus Montero hit a double off the wall, which is notable in the sense that it wasn't a single off the wall. He hit several of those last year. Ryan Divish had this to say:
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p>Montero running to second was faster than the wireless here at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.</p>— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) <a href="https://twitter.com/RyanDivish/status/313759078776180736">March 18, 2013</a></blockquote>
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- To which I say, wow, Phoenix should probably get their stadium a wireless connection. Dialup is terrible!
- Michael Saunders made a baserunning mistake, again, getting overzealous and being thrown out at second base trying to stretch a single into a double. For all that the Condor is a pretty fast guy, he seems to be the most frequent source of boneheaded baserunning plays on this team. Of course, Casper Wells is the one who gets all of the flak about not being mentally tough, but because he was supposed to be the big get of the Fister trade and Saunders was supposed to be terrible I guess Wedge is holding them to different standards. There's a lesson in here somewhere about expectations. Depending on how you look at it, I guess, the 2013 Mariners could be either Michael Saunders or Casper Wells.
- Justin Smoak is slugging .732 in 41 plate appearances so far. His regular season career SLG% is .377. Noted sabermetrician John Dewan has been predicting breakouts for the last few years, with a 60% success rate, by choosing hitters who eclipse their career SLG% by 200 points or more in at least 40 spring training PAs. That means that in order for Smoak to have a better-than-average chance of taking a plateau leap, he just has to not let his SLG% drop by more than 155 points before the end of the spring! (If only.)
- Eric Sogard still wears glasses. Of course Eric Sogard still wears glasses.