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AL West: Sailing the high seas
When cooking up a winning ballclub, starting pitching is the essential ingredient -- at least, that's the general belief. Mariners fans may disagree. Seattle boasts a respectable 35-27 mark, yet it holds the second-worst starter ERA in the majors (5.55). The Mariners have taken nine of 12 games in July, even though the rotation has racked up just four quality starts in the month.
While the Mariners have struggled to get any type of consistency in the starting rotation, they've excelled in some key areas.
First and foremost, Seattle has been red hot at the plate, boasting baseball's second-highest batting average (.286) and batting average with runners in scoring position (.296). Another reason for the Mariners' offensive success is the fact that they plain put the ball in play, as Seattle easily has the lowest strikeout total (292) in either league. In a surprise to nobody, the catalyst of the lineup is leadoff man Ichiro Suzuki. After a slow start in April, Ichiro's hitting .355 in the last month-and-a-half. But Ichiro isn't the only one swinging a hot bat; unheralded catcher Kenji Johjima's quietly hitting .330, while shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt just ended a 20-game hitting streak.
The Mariners have also formed a reliable bullpen chock-full of live arms. Besides boasting the best bullpen record in baseball (13-3), the Mariners rank fifth in bullpen ERA (3.35). J.J. Putz has steadily developed into one of the game's most dominant closers and Brandon Morrow is enjoying a remarkable rookie year as Putz's setup man. Also, lefty George Sherrill has proven highly effective in middle relief. Fireballer Mark Lowe could return from the 60-day DL before the All-Star break to boot.
Recently, no team has been more clutch than Seattle. Wednesday night's loss snapped a five-game winning streak in which the Mariners won every game in their last at-bat.
Behind its efficient offense, shutdown 'pen and late-game savvy, Seattle has leapfrogged Oakland into second place in the A.L. West, and Mariners faithful are talking about a pennant race for the first time in years.
At the end of the day, though, that horrendous rotation is still extremely disconcerting. Since the turn of the millennium, only two teams have made the playoffs with a starter ERA ranked below 20th (the Indians finished 26th in 2001 and the Yankees finished 21st in 2005), and each of those teams boasted a more potent offense than this Mariners installment.
After Jarrod Washburn and Felix Hernandez, Seattle's rotation takes a nosedive. Gil Meche and his 3.16 ERA would be nice to have, but Seattle let Meche walk in free agency.
Mariners GM Bill Bavasi has made some questionable moves in the past (trading Freddy Garcia for peanuts, signing Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson to gargantuan deals, etc.), but he must get back in the saddle and acquire another arm. Seattle's playoff hopes hang in the balance.
Labels: AL West
posted by SI.com | View comments |
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