The Mariners finished their 2010 season on a five game losing streak, good enough for 101 losses and 29 games out of first in the AL West. While winning their first two games of 2011 was a good start it only helped to set up the disappointment to come. The Mariners proceeded to lose 11 of their next 13, jumping out of the gate at 4-11. At that point nothing was going right; to put it simply, they couldn’t hit, and other teams were hitting them (not exactly saber metrics, I know). The first part, while arguably just as troubling, wasn’t exactly surprising. The M’s finished last season with offensive stats ranked at the bottom of nearly every category in majors. Here’s the evidence, I warn those who have weak stomachs to skip ahead to the next paragraph; 513 runs scored, 101 homeruns, an average of .236, and a slugging percentage of .339, all rank dead last in baseball. However, through the first fifteen games what was surprising was the lack of pitching.
During the horrid thirteen-game streak the Mariners staff gave up an average of six runs per game, with their starters holding a record of 1-10. That’s an embarrassing start for any staff, but when that staff includes the reigning AL Cy Young winner in Felix Hernandez it’s downright confusing. What else is staggering is how by May 1st their pitching stats would now rank right down the middle of the road; an ERA of 3.92 and an Opponent Batting Average of .250 (both rank 17th in the majors). As of late the Mariners starting five have stepped up, and kept Seattle hanging on.
The Mariners haven’t lost a series in their last three, splitting four with Oakland, sweeping three in Detroit, and then taking two of three from the Sox in Boston. It’s a fairly standard rule that pitching wins games, but never more applicable than this year in Seattle. In the seven wins they have given up just 1.43 runs per game, as opposed to 5.66 in the 3 losses. With only five pitchers having started this year the culprits are obvious. Breakthrough prospect Michael Pineda has lived up to all of the hype boasting a 2.01 ERA with a 4-1 record in his 5 quality starts. Felix has lowered his ERA to 3.21 winning his last couple, and the final three, Erik Bedard, Doug Fister and Jason Vargas have combined to win their last four decisions. Not to mention Jamey Wright, David Pauley and closer Aaron Laffey all holding down sub-two ERAs in the pen. The result is, as of May 4th, the M’s sits just two games out in the AL West.
What have we learned? When the starters flirt with perfection Seattle will win games, this has been proven. They also have the ability, as a staff, to put together long stretches of quality starts, but does anyone believe Seattle can be real contenders? No, not really, they simply can’t hit. They didn’t hit last year, they aren’t hitting yet this year and they won’t hit in the future. Quite frankly some of the numbers are inflated due to Ichiro being one of the best hitters in the past decade, not to mention he may only be in Seattle until the Marines get the right offer for his services. That being said, the Mariners can stick around and prove me wrong, but if they do it will be for one reason; pitching. Top to bottom, one through five, long relievers to closer and back again, the staff is going to have to be nearly perfect, calling upon the numbers that have given them 8 wins in their last 11.
About the Author
Written by Ken Heinrich
I have been a sports fan ever since I was just a kid watching games with my brother and father. I took pride in knowing as much as possible about every sport and team I could find. The only thing that has changed is now I enjoy sharing that passion with readers of my blog and those who listen to my talk shows on Sports Talk 790 the Ticket in Miami, Fl. Feel free to contact me to disagree or just chat through my blog or on twitter (@KenHeinrich).