We host the Seattle Mariners for 3 games starting tonight.
The Mariners were picked by many to win the Al West this season (much like the Jays) and (again, much like Jays) haven't lived up to those predictions. The M's are 18-22 (pretty much the same as our 19-24 record), hitting 3rd, 8 games back of the Astros.
The Mariners have scored 3.8 Run per game, 3rd from the bottom in the AL and have allowed 4.2 run per game, right about league average, but a fair bit better than our 4.8 run per game.
I sent off some questions to Nathan Bishop from Lookout Landing, SB Nation's popular Mariners site.
How is our old friend J.A. Happ doing? I don't suppose you'd take a slightly damaged Michael Saunders back for him?
J.A. Happ has been almost exactly J.A. Happ, only a little bit better. He has kept his walks down but otherwise the contact, strikeout and groundball rates have been extremely similar to last year. We noted at the time of the trade was that Happ's fastball velocity increased every single year he was in the majority, from 88.8 MPH in 2008 all the way up to last year's 92.7. That has finally regressed so far this year and he is at 91.2.
He has probably pitched a bit over his head thus far but it has been a desperately needed pick up for a rotation battered by Hisashi Iwakuma's injury and Taijuan Walker's struggles. Thank you for him.
As for Michael Saunders we love him and suggest you love him and pack him carefully and gently on all road trips, making sure to remember to punch air holes in the box and liberally label it "Fragile/delicate".
Robinson Cano is having a pretty slow start to his season, what's going on with him? Do you expect him to turn things around?
One of our writer's, Colin O'Keefe, just took a bit of an in depth look at that with a post. The short version is Cano is losing his ability to make contact on pitches out of the strike zone. Also, while he got off to a slow start last year as well this year, at least to my eye, he appears increasingly frustrated.
We are 1/4 of the way through the season and Robinson Cano has as many home runs as Madison Bumgarner. Obviously the lack of pop is a something that needs to change. His strikeouts have spiked and his walks plummeted. Every Mariner fan knew the Cano contract would be ugly at some point but most of us are convinced that this is mostly a protracted slump. But that may be because the alternative is too great a horror to contemplate.
Who is your favorite Mariner to watch?
Well in an organization as rich in history and currently loaded with so many can't miss, must watch stars Felix it's Felix Hernandez duh. The relationship forged between Felix and the city of Seattle is a very special thing. As the organization has experienced prospect after prospect either fail or blossom in another city post trade Felix is the one that stayed, the one that never disappointed and he has been as good as ever thus far in 2015.
Felix's combination of success, loyalty and demonstrative style on the mound has created a unique environment at Safeco Field during his starts. The team marketing department has done an excellent job building up the King's Court promotion and I am fairly confident there is almost nothing like it anywhere else in baseball.
We love Cano. We love Seager. We love Cruz. All are mere Lords and Nobles in the kingdom of our King.
Can you give up a scouting report on manager Lloyd McClendon? Strengths and weaknesses?
Lloyd appears excellent at engendering a cohesive clubhouse and his players love him. He is the classic manager who views himself as the shield between his players and all other outside forces and is willing to do whatever it takes to protect, nurture and help them. Since his first managerial stint in Pittsburgh McClendon spent many years in Detroit and you can see the influence that Jim Leyland had on his philosophy, something he has spoken about many times.
As far as weaknesses every manager has tactical tics and players they fall in love with that drive you crazy. While McClendon has paid some rudimentary lip service to the analysis the Mariners' statistical department passes on to him he appears neither well versed in advanced metrics nor particularly interested in becoming more so.
He has negated a huge amount of Nelson Cruz' vast offensive contributions this year by stubbornly playing him in RF, despite having more capable outfielders like Justin Ruggiano rotting on the bench. His bullpen usage can be frustrating and confusing however any time your closer is Fernando Rodney those to adjectives will come into play often, regardless of manager.
In summation McClendon has strengths and weaknesses, same as any manager. It is unlikely he falls far enough on either extreme of good/bad to have a substantial impact on the team's record. His greatest asset is his ability to keep the team together, but that has been and will continue to be tested if the team continues to disappoint.
Your catcher, Mike Zunino is hitting .175/.234/.351 and yet seems to be playing every day. Is he good enough defensively to justify continuing to play him? Is there an inhouse replacement or would you guys like Dioner Navarro (presuming that he comes off the DL one day).
Ah Mike Z, the great enigma of the Mariners. Zunino was drafted 3rd overall in 2012 and by August of 2013 was in the majors, after just over 100 professional games. There is almost no doubt that he was badly rushed as his ability to juggle the responsibilities of catching and hitting have often seemed overwhelming.
After showing the power in 2014 with 22 home runs many hoped that his offensive game would naturally evolve and develop to a more acceptable level from last year's .254 OBP and 33.2 K%. Unfortunately the results have been an exacerbated version of that profile, as Zunino's OBP this year is .234 and his K% an almost comical 37.1.
He would have long ago been sent back to Tacoma for refinement except, as you intimated he is an excellent defensive catcher, particularly at blocking balls in the dirt and the subtle alchemy of pitch framing. Coupled with the Mariners complete lack of depth at the catcher position and Zunino's offense has more or less been left to rot.
This week the team appears to have finally admitted that the status quo wasn't working by trading for Welington Castillo, a serviceable major league catcher. Whether this simply leads to more rest for Zunino (he leads the majors in games caught) or would allow for a relegation to AAA for offensive work has yet to be seen.
The Mariners were a lot of people's pick to win the AL West (like the Jays in the AL East) and (like the Jays) haven't been doing what was expected of them. What has gone wrong? What's the feeling among Mariner fans? Is there hope that they will put things together and make a run?
A shorter answer would be what hasn't gone wrong. Felix Hernandez has been great and Nelson Cruz has been hitting like mid 90's Albert Belle and that about ends it for the positives. The rotation has been hampered by Hisashi Iwakuma being on the DL with a strained lat and the catastrophic performance of hyped prospect Taijuan Walker, who is running an ERA in the mid 7's.
All of the team's position players sans Cruz and Brad Miller have played below their 2014 levels of production. Austin Jackson was largely ineffective offensively and then hurt which made us realize the depth behind him made even his poor production vastly preferable to the alternatives. Rickie Weeks has dropped flyballs like a little leaguer, the bullpen has been the exact inverse of its top 3 in baseball 2014 form.
Basically, almost everything feels like its gone to hell. Yesterday's game was a good example. After battling back from a 4-0 1st inning deficit the team tied the game only to see Kyle Seager, one of their best players and most stoic humans, ejected for calling balls and strikes. This led to Willie Bloomquist coming up to bat, twice, in the late innings with the bases loaded. He was Willie Bloomquist in those at bats and the Mariners lost 5-4.
Most Mariner fans are a combination of panicked and resigned. This team has not made the playoffs since 2001 and never made the World Series. Failure and disappointment are familiar bedfellows. There is still a good team in there somewhere, the Mariners roster is very capable of playing with anyone in the American League, but unless many players find their 2014 form it may be too late, particularly coupled with the Houston Astros' amazing success thus far.
Is there hope? A smidge. But it's largely blotted out by the long shadow cast by our old friend resignation.
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