(Hey there, Brett here simply to introduce this piece–you’ve seen a bit of my writing, and I’ve been posting the actual podcasts on the blog here, but the S of the BS Show also does some writing. I’ll also be sharing his pieces as he writes them, or if I get too lazy, I’ll bug him to sign up for a wordpress account, then bug Neil to give him posting privileges. So yeah, the byline here is deceiving. Here’s some good ‘ol fashioned substance from Shane.)
Things will be good, soon
By Shane Lantz
This season, the Mariners have been pretty much who we thought they’d be. They hit a lot. The pitching is spotty. The bullpen has been ok. On Wednesday, all of those pieces seemed to finally come together, and produce a win that has the Mariners off to one of their best starts in nearly a decade.
The Mariners are 6-4 on the year, for the most part due to their offense. The Mariners have the seventh-best batting average in baseball at .252, and rank 14th in WRC+ at 110, without Mike Zunino and Nelson Cruz. But on the pitching side, the coaster has been a bit bumpier, more Matterhorn that Thunder Mountain, if you will. The M’s rank 29th in baseball, with a pitching WAR of 0.0, an xFIP of 4.24, and an ERA- of 129, 29 percent below league average.
But for the past two days, the pitching has delivered. After Felix Hernandez’s decent start against the Royals, James Paxton showed off his dazzling repertoire, going six innings, allowing only two earned runs, while striking out 10 batters in Wednesday’s series finale. Kyle Seager also finally jump-started his season, blasting an eighth inning, two-run bomb to seal the win.
It is the second straight strong start from Paxton, and one the Mariners desperately needed.
With Felix Hernandez and the 4-5 spots in the rotation being a bit of an uncertainty, it is imperative that Paxton live up to expectations this year, if the Mariners have any hope of contending. The rest of the rotation is thin, to say the least. The bullpen has had its own struggles, aside from Edwin Diaz. But the win on Wednesday put a positive stamp on a road trip that began rather badly. Remember San Francisco? Felix Hernandez got lit up in his start there last week, and a bad non-strike call against Nick Vincent led to a home run that put the Mariners behind by two instead of one against Fernando Rodney in the ninth. That all feels like a long time ago now. It is crazy how much winning erases the bad memories.
Diaz has also been absolutely dominating this season, and put the finishing stamp on the trip, allowing zero hits and striking out one Royal, enroute to his fourth save. Diaz has yet to allow a hit this year, and has a K/9 percentage of 21.60. It is well that he has been so dominant, because the rest of the bullpen has had a few hiccups. Vincent has had struggles, while Nicasio needs to regain his velocity, and keep it there, to be successful. His fastball last season averaged 95.4 mph, and in his first few outings, Nicasio has averaged only 93.2. That seems fast, but in 2018, a late-inning reliever such as Nicasio needs to consistently be throwing 95. If he can do that from the beginning, as soon as he enters the game, he should be in good shape.
Things are looking up from here. Following ANOTHER off day on Thursday, the Mariners return home to face the Oakland Athletics on Friday. Ben Gamel is expected to return from his oblique injury, with Cruz and Zunino not far behind. With those three hitters in the lineup, it gives the Mariners pitching staff room to breathe, and time to figure out how to consistently put up quality starts, without the losses piling up early in the season. Whatever kind of depth the pitching lacks, the starting lineup possesses. With Ben Gamel’s return, it throws into question just who will be the starting LF. Gamel came into the season as the presumed starting LF, but Guillermo Heredia has been solid, hitting .250/.381/.625 in 21 at-bats, with a WRC+ of 177 this season. It’s a battle worth watching over the next few weeks, as you, dear reader, along with Ichiro Suzuki, will be looking at it from the outside.
Get ready, Mariners fans. The starting lineup is almost all back. Once they are healthy, this team could finally light the fuse that rockets them up in the standings. Things are looking up. It will be good.