The Seattle Mariners: Quietly Going About Their Business as a Good Baseball Team
Seattle Mariners 2014
King Felix and Robinson Cano leading the way
The Seattle Mariners made some noise in the offseason by signing free agents Robinson Cano and Corey Hart, but many were not sure if they would be able to compete right away. Robinson Cano's comments during spring training, about the needs that the Mariners still had, were reasons for concern among Mariners fans as the 2014 season began. To this point in the season, it has not always been easy for the Mariners, but they have overcome some key injuries early on to post a winning record in the middle of June. The Mariners are currently led by their two best and highest paid players, in Ace pitcher Felix Hernandez along with star second basemen Robinson Cano. Cano currently is second in the race for the American League batting title, with a .327 batting average, while Felix Hernandez is fifth in the American League in earned runs average at 2.29. The contributions of these two players have played a large role in getting the Mariners to where they are right now. As the halfway mark of the season approaches, the Mariners will look to get strong contributions from their role players and starting pitchers returning from injury.
A winning record before the halfway mark
Early in the season, the Mariners were looking for a good option to emerge in the cleanup spot of the lineup, and third basemen Kyle Seager accepted the challenge. Seager currently is hitting .261 with a .341 on base percentage, 10 homeruns and 47 runs batted in. Seager also has 16 doubles and three triples to go along with the ten homeruns, so he has produced above and beyond the expectations for a good major league cleanup hitter. This has played a huge role in helping the Mariners to post a winning record to this point, because it forces teams to have to pitch to number three hitter Robinson Cano. The Mariners have other significant complementary pieces, but a strong cleanup hitter really ties their lineup together by giving them a run producer behind a hitter who faces a significant amount of intentional walks. The emergence of James Jones as the Mariners leadoff hitter has been a factor for the Mariners as well, but their pitching staff has provided them with the stability needed to win games in the first two and a half months of the season.
While Felix Hernandez has been the best starter for the Mariners so far this year, Seattle has gotten strong pitching from other members of their starting staff. Hisashi Iwakuma was fantastic for the Mariners in 2013, and he has been very strong early this season again. The success of Iwakuma is rooted in his excellent command of the strike zone, as this season he is allowing less than one base runner to reach per inning. Iwakuma and Hernandez are not the only pitchers that are winning games for the Mariners this season, and when completely healthy, the Mariners could have one of the best pitching rotations in baseball. Youngster Roenis Elias and veteran Chris Young have both pitched well for the Mariners as they await the return of some of their key young starters. James Paxton and Taijuan Walker both debuted last season and put on a spectacular display of velocity with their four seam fastballs. Both of these young starters are injured, but a return for the stretch run could propel the Mariners into the postseason.
Paxton and Walker
Taijuan Walker made his debut last season, but due to being placed on the disabled list early this season, he has yet to throw a pitch for Mariners big league club in 2014. Like Walker, James Paxton also made his debut in 2013. The results for both pitchers were very strong, but especially for the left handed Paxton who featured an upper 90s fastball deep into his starts. Paxton made two starts for the Mariners this year before being placed on the 60 day disabled list with a back injury. In those two starts however, Paxton was able to put on quite a show for Mariners fans, even though each start lasted only six innings. Over 12 innings this season Paxton allowed only six hits and three runs. Those two starts also included just two walks and 13 strikeouts to give him more than one strikeout for every inning he pitched. In a small three start sample last season, Taijuan Walker also put on display strong command and strikeout ability for the Mariners. For these reasons, the Mariners await the returns of these two premier pitching talents, with the expectation that they will only get better after their return.
Expectations for the Mariners season
If both James Paxton and Taijuan Walker return to the Mariners this season to fill out their rotation with top notch talent, the expectations for this team will be very high. As of right now though, the Mariners potential is again limited by their offense. As a team that appears to be a buy at the trade deadline this season, the Mariners could really help their chances with the right additions to their offense. Throughout the remainder of the season, the Mariners pitching staff will continue to keep their team in games. Having a legitimate cleanup hitter behind Robinson Cano will allow the Mariners to continue to win games offensively, because they now have somebody to drive in runs when teams pitch around Robinson Cano. If the Mariners could get first basemen Justin Smoak to turn his season around, or get a strong return from the disabled list for Corey Hart, that would go a long way in helping them to get their offense going. The fate of the season ultimately lies in the hands of top pitching prospects James Paxton and Taijuan Walker, as pitching is what wins games for the Mariners.
The depth on the Mariners pitching staff this season, has proven to be the difference between past losing seasons and the winning record they have right now. If the Mariners were to reach the postseason this year, they would be a dangerous team when they get there, because a rotation of Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker is very formidable in a short series. Ultimately the Mariners offense will decided how far they go this season, with that depending on how much run producing depth they are able to find behind Cano and Seager. Right now the Mariners have a strong top of the order in place, but they need the bats to fill out the bottom of the order and turn it over more quickly. Overall the Mariners have answered most of the questions that they had early this season, with most of their stars being on their pitching staff, and their big investment in Robinson Cano is paying off.