For the first time since August 2012, the Mariners are sitting above .500 for their second consecutive month. They've won eight of their last ten games. They have a 1.5 lead above the Orioles and Royals for the second wild card. Their run differential of +56 is the second-best in the majors, a hair above the Dodgers' +55 and far, far below the A's astronomical +134. It's been a good month.
Around this time every month, I run a poll to roughly gauge the sentiment towards Lloyd McClendon and Jack Zduriencik's managing expertise. Following an 11-14 April, 17% of readers felt favorably towards the pair, while 83% were either disapproving or unsure of their effectiveness after the first month. After May -- and the Mariners' consequent push towards a .500 record -- the mood lightened a bit. This time, 54% of readers felt favorably towards Lloyd and Jack, while 16% did not and 30% were on the fence. Before I ask you to rate them again, here's a brief overview of how June played out.
This was the month where Jack came into his own -- beginning with the annual MLB draft. To no one's surprise, Zduriencik selected high school catcher Alex Jackson, a highly-touted power hitter and one of the best bats -- if not the best bat -- available. He supplemented this pick with a handful of cheap arms, as well as a centerfielder and a catcher, including strong defender Austin Cousino and potential lefty specialist Ryan Yarbrough. (If you missed it earlier this month, Lookout Landing's draft day recaps and analyses can be found here.)
Jack's rebuilding plan has always hinged on a strong farm system. While blockbuster trades may not be in the Mariners' immediate future, it's reassuring to see him strengthening the team in other ways. Currently, the M's catching position is locked down by another high draft pick, Mike Zunino, which means that Zduriencik is looking to convert Jackson to the outfield in order to capitalize on the kid's above-average arm. Another definite upside for Seattle is Jackson's right-handed power, something the Mariners currently have in short supply.
One thing Jack made clear to the press is his unwillingness to rush the prospect for immediate benefit. As he told the Seattle Times' Ryan Divish:
"You are always careful to put timetables on kids," Zduriencik said. "Let him go out there and play. We think he's going to move quickly, but [...] his performances and how he advances will dictate how quickly he moves. But right now, we'll let him get his feet wet in Arizona and see what happens from there."
Whether or not Jackson will pan out in the majors is another matter entirely -- and one I hope Jack Z is around to see.
As Zduriencik restocked the farm system, McClendon directed the team to a winning record despite Erasmo Ramirez and three injured starters. Neither James Paxton nor Taijuan Walker were around for the bulk of the month, with Paxton's re-injured shoulder pushing his timetable back even further and Walker's season debut arriving right at the tail end of June. Instead, McClendon had to fall back on Chris Young and Roenis Elias, the latter of whom began the month with his first career complete game shutout.
One of the more intriguing aspects of Lloyd's managing strategy is his tendency to see players as he believes they can be, not necessarily as they are. Both Kyle Seager and Brad Miller had tremendous months, batting .309/.350/.536 and .298/.355/.512, respectively. In response to this, McClendon told Jayson Jenks that he expects better from both men. Concerning Seager, McClendon said, "I think he's a .285, a .295 guy who should drive in 85 to 100 runs. That's what we're trying to get him to be."
Miller was on the hook for even greater expectations. "I think he's a certain type of player, and I'm still waiting to see it," McClendon told the Times, citing Miller's minor league .334 career average and .925 OPS as benchmarks for future production. These are the "first world problems" of the baseball world: instructing your .300 hitters to improve even more.
The real question now is whether this team will continue to sustain its winning percentage through the next three months, when hot starts will be tested and the race for wild cards #1 and #2 will tighten up. The M's have some things going for them: the return of Taijuan Walker and Michael Saunders, two lengthy homestands, and the conclusion of the Jesus Montero Experiment: Part II. With any luck, we'll be celebrating another .500 month by the end of July.
Your turn: Does Lloyd's in-game strategy improve your opinion of him? In an ideal world, what moves would Jack Z make before the trade deadline?