We are now as little over a quarter of the way through the 2012 MLB season, and it’s time for my first quarter review of the Seattle Mariners. The last two seasons the Mariners have ended up in last place in the A.L. West. Has any progress been made in the first quarter of this season? The Mariners currently stand at 21-25, third place in the A.L. West and 6.5 games behind the division-leading Angels. Seattle has avoided last place most of the season, but the surging Angels are only a half game behind them and coming into Seattle for a four-game series.
Can the Mariners make the playoffs? The Mariners look a lot like the 2011 squad who got off to a strong first half start, then faltered in the second half. There has been minor improvements in the team ranks of the three major categories: AVG (.232-11th in A.L.), HR (39-9th), and Runs Scored (176-10th). Last season, as a team the Mariners were last in the American League in runs scored and AVG, and next to last in HR. Besides some offensive improvement, the Mariners have been stout against A.L. West competition. They are 3-4 vs. division-leading Texas, including just taking 2 of 3 games in Seattle, and 5-2 vs. Oakland. With an unbalanced schedule, you have to play well against divisional foes. What the Mariners haven’t done is put together an impressive winning streak. The biggest winning streak they have this season is 4, while they have had a seven game losing streak and two four game losing streaks. Still, they have yet to play themselves out of a spot, and it’s a long baseball season. I’d put playoff chances for this season at 25%.
First Quarter’s Biggest Strength. Again, the starting pitching has dazzled for the Seattle Mariners. You know what you’re going to get out of Felix Hernandez. Hernandez is a bona fide ace, and he pitches like it. His record isn’t overpowering (4-3), but he has a 2.80 ERA in 70.2 IP and has recorded 68 SO. Jason Vargas has developed as a clear number two behind him filling the void left by Doug Fister and Michael Pineda. Vargas is 5-3 with a 3.34 ERA in 64.2 IP, already halfway to his career best in wins set last season (10). Blake Beavan (2-4, 4.46) looked strong in the early part of the season before he had some injury issues, and Kevin Millwood has been on fire of late. Millwood has allowed one ER in his last twenty-two innings winning all three starts (Yankees, Rockies, and Rangers). His ERA is now 3.72 with a 3-4 record.
First Quarter’s Biggest Weakness. Although their team average doesn’t rank as low as it did last season, the Mariners are only batting .232 as a team. Seattle, who only added Jesus Montero to bolster their sagging offense, was hoping for younger players with some more experience to step up. Full-time starters Michael Saunders (.222), Justin Smoak (.205), and Brendan Ryan (.176) are all batting under .225. Dustin Ackley has dropped off some at the plate going from .273-6 HR-36 RBI last season to .247-3 HR-15 RBI this season. Even veterans haven’t bounced back the way Seattle was hoping when they mostly stood pat in the off season. Chone Figgins, who was inserted into Ichiro’s leadoff spot to begin the season, has slid to the bench batting .180 with 2 HR and 8 RBI, down from the .188 he put last year. Even Ichiro, who was moved to third in the order to help run production, is batting .283, low for a man who has batted over .300 10 times in his career. The offense needs to play better for the Mariners to catapult to the right side of .500.
Help on the way? The Mariners have three main guys on the DL right now. Reliever George Sherrill had surgery and is done for the season. Miguel Olivo is currently in a rehab stint in Tacoma recovering from a right groin strain. Olivo has shown some power at the plate (3 HR in 23 games), but the Mariners are hoping he can bounce back and raise his average. He is batting .210, 59 points down from his 2010 season with Colorado. The Mariners also hope to get CF Franklin Gutierrez back soon. He has been injury plagued the last two seasons for Seattle, struggling last season batting .224 with 1 HR and 19 RBI. The Mariners hope to get Gutierrez, an excellent defensive presence along with a nice bat, back by late June.