So remember when I said the Mariners weren’t contenders? Yeah, its still true. But—
The M’s have been playing some very improved baseball in the second half. They’re 22-13, and that’s despite playing the Yankees twice, the Rays twice, the Orioles, Rangers, and Angels. Now, some will point out that we did play the Royals and Twins in this span, and that’s a given. But we swept the Blue Jays, and maintained good play after weathering a 5 game slump (in which the Orioles swept us). So what gives?
The first thing (and the most cynical) points out that the Royals and Twins playing us make up 11 games of those games, and 10 victories. While its encouraging to see us play consistently well while playing bad teams, that leaves us at a 12-13 mark for everyone else mentioned in the above paragraph. Which isn’t as exciting as being 22-13.
The Mariners are hitting better as a team, is another reason. In the first half, the Mariners had a .230/.291/.311 line as a team, which is pretty much awful. In the second half, that line for the team has increased to .243/.303/.405 as a group. This still isn’t contending level hitting, but for the team as a whole is a huge improvement. Time will tell (as well as a bunch of games against contending AL West teams) if this can hold up, but hitting better is encouraging.
It’s also good to know that the team hitting better means individual players must be. And, I’ve looked to see who those players are. We could all assume that Jaso was one of those players, and he is, hitting .333/.467/.580 in the second half. Jesus Montero is hitting .299/.352/.436, which is exactly what you want to see out of a blue-chip hitting prospect. Kyle Seager is hitting an improved .261/.327/.351, which is another good thing to see out of a young player. Eric Thames has hit .269/.309/.404 since becoming a Mariner, which isn’t a huge sample size but it is an improvement from his Blue Jay days, and sorta starts to make up for how awful he is in the field. Brendan Ryan is hitting .253/.309/.337, which with his defensive value being off the charts makes him a shortstop we can keep around moving forward if his hitting keeps up. Carp was hitting .276/.348/.379 before his injury, and Smoak is hitting .313/.368/.625 since coming up to replace him (I know, I know, huge stretch but let me celebrate).
What does bother me is the hitting of our outfield (and one certain second baseman) did not join the hitting party. Ackley is .227/.295/.395, and you’d like to see his hitting improve any time it can (ANY TIME, DUSTIN). Saunders has hit a tame .211/.235/.336, which does not bode well for those who were enamored with his first half performance. Robinson is only hitting .222/.300/.315 since being called up, and really makes me wonder why he was called up in the first place. Something tells me Z doesn’t want to admit he got nothing for Bedard quite yet, and is really wanting Trayvon to catch lightning and make that one look better (sorry, Z, it’s not gonna happen). Wells is in the worst slump, hitting .191/.246/.336, which as a whole shows to me that our outfield may not be set in stone with Wells and Saunders moving forward. To avoid that conversation, they should probably step up and start hitting.
Olivo is hitting .266/.266/.422, which is great because it shows that Olivo never takes walks. This up-tic is the direct result of a .308/.308/.615 August in 6 games that he’s played in. Which, if we have to keep Olivo moving forward, is how he should be used; sparingly.
Pitching has also played a part, with the starter’s ERA moving down from 4.35 to 3.01. The bullpen’s has actually increased (3.33 from 3.21), though I doubt damages much of the unit as a whole, and means they still do pitch at least passingly when they come in.
Focusing on the starters (due to their improvement being much more vast), you see who is contributing and who isn’t. Vargas has been a solid contributor, with a 2.16 from 4.07 and a BAA of .230 down from .242. Iwakuma has been a ton better at limiting his damage; while maintaining a similar BAA he dropped his ERA from 4.84 to 2.93. It does show that Iwakuma has been dealing with baserunners a lot better. Beavan has been pitching less awful, moving his ERA down to 3.97 from 5.92 and his BAA to .256 from .297. Beavan probably still isn’t a long-term starter, but showing that he can spot start in a crunch and not lose the game for you would be a helpful piece, so keep it up Blake. Which brings us, of course, to Felix. How do you even start to talk about how good Felix has been since the break. Start with stats, I guess; a 1.44 ERA and a .144 BAA, down from 3.13 and .250 in the first half. In the 7 starts, he’s had 46 strikeouts, 3 complete game shut-outs, and has only given up 27 hits and 9 walks. There was something else he did, but I can’t remember.
Millwood has been the lone holdout from pitching better, by having a 5.57 ERA and a .335 BAA in the second half (which is totally killing his trade value!). When September rolls around, if Millwood is still pitching sub-par, he might become the first to miss a start. Or all of them.
With an upcoming series against Cleveland (whom we never play well against), the test of the M’s last 40 games is set to begin. Let’s see if the Mariners maintain or fizzle.