Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Who'da Thunk It? [Snave]

Don't look now, but after today's exciting 11-inning 2-1 win over the Boston Red Sox, the Seattle Mariners suddenly find themselves with a 42-33 record, just five games out of first place in the AL West and only three games behind the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the loss column. Seattle is now just three games behind Detroit and Cleveland in the AL wild card race. Who'da thunk it?

Many Mariner fans had basically given the team up for dead before this season began, and I will admit to being one of those doubters. I thought this would be a "rebuilding" year, but it looks like the team could still be contending for a wild card position or the AL West title deep into the season.

The Mariners used timely hitting and strong relief pitching to sweep Boston at Safeco Field this afternoon. Jose Lopez hit a deep fly to left field off former Mariner pitcher Joel Pineiro, scoring Ichiro Suzuki all the way from first base. Manny Ramirez played Lopez shallow, and the ball banked off the left field wall, caroming away and allowing Ichiro to cross the plate.

Is it time to begin giving Seattle GM Bill Bavasi some credit for the team's resurgence? Possibly. One of his free-agent signees, Jeff Weaver, started the season 0-6 with an earned run average of over 18, but since a brief stint on the disabled list, Weaver is 2-0 with an ERA of 1.82 in 24 2/3 innings. His overall ERA of 7.71 and his win-loss mark of 2-6 are still terrible, but they don't tell the story of how well he has done since June 9. While free-agent Horacio Ramirez is still on the DL with shoulder tendinitis, it hasn't hurt the rotation at all, as rookie Ryan Feierabend (pronounced "Fear-Bend") has filled in admirably as of late (in today's win he threw five strong shutout innings). Cha-Seung Baek (3-3, 5.74, pronounced "Beck") is still on the DL but could return soon.

Those stats are not particularly good, but when one looks at the bullpen, led by J.J. Putz (he pronounces it "Putts"!) with his 22 straight saves, 0.99 ERA and 0.59 WHIP, backed by lefties Eric O'Flaherty (2.08 ERA, 0.96 WHIP) and George Sherrill (1.50, 0.67) it is easy to see this as a team strength. The primary late-inning right-handers are youngsters Sean Green (2.57) and Brandon Morrow (3.41), with Indians castoff Jason Davis getting some innings. Davis picked up the win today, and lowered his ERA to 5.51 (it ballooned from 4.23 to 5.87 when he allowed seven earned runs in three innings against the Reds last week).

Seattle still needs a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher, maybe two. The M's also need a bit more patience at the plate; although they do have good batting stats, there are several players who "hack" at the plate, including SS Yuniesky Betancourt (only 17 walks in 558 at-bats in 2006, and nine walks in 258 at-bats this year) and the high priced duo of Adrian Beltre (since his monster season with the Dodgers in 2004 his OPS has been under .800) and Richie Sexson (he fans about 150 times per season).

Still, beggars can't be choosers, and Mariner fans have been beggars the last few seasons. Right now, I'm very happy with second place and a .560 winning percentage. It looks like the M's could be buyers, not sellers, come this season's July 31 trading deadline!

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