The Seattle Mariners (5-7) just completed their second week of baseball, and so far it has been quite the roller coaster. After winning the first series in Texas, they came home and immediately lost 5 straight at Safeco, only to see it turn around when they went back on the road. Let’s take a look at what happened and some of the reasons why it’s no time to panic quite yet.
Worst Home Stand Ever
The Mariners started the week at home with a visit from the Texas Rangers. They managed to pick up right where they left off the previous series against Oakland, showing a complete lack of ability to score in a pair of losses 7-3 and 8-0.
The first game was even worse than the score line looked as the Mariners scored 2 of their runs late off the Rangers mop up relievers. At the end of it all the Mariners were looking terrible at 2-6. It is the first time in their long history of bad years they have ever started 0-5 at home.
The hitting did not improve much for the final game of the series either, but thankfully the pitching was able to keep them in this one until the 10th inning, when Dae Ho Lee, the new Korean sensation, put a walk off 2 run HR into the seats to finally put an end to the skid and send the M’s back on the road on a winning note.
Not as Bad as it Looked
Now if you look at the home stand in isolation, they really looked terrible. It’s important to keep in mind though that the Mariners suffered some incredibly bad luck over those first games. Their BABIP (batting average on balls in play) was a horrific .220 over their first 8 games. This was the worst in the majors by a full 20 points (.270 is about average for a team). This is a stat that almost always averages out over a larger sample size so the run of bad luck is bound to change. It actually did once they went on the road again.
Another issue that we saw throughout the home stand was on shifts. Scott Servais and Jerry DiPoto are much more analytics driven than previous regimes. This is borne out in the high amount of infield shifting you see the team doing this year. There is a lot of data that goes into determining where to position guys.
They are often using years of spray chart data to determine where each hitter is most likely to hit a ground ball. Over the long term, shifting will create a lot more outs than it costs. The Mariners seemed to get all the cost ones out of the way in about 4 games though. Oakland repeatedly managed to hit ground balls right into the holes in the shift. I don’t think I’ve seen it get burned that many times in that short of a time span ever.
Road Sweet Road
All of this seemed to change over the weekend. The Mariners waltzed in to Yankee stadium, and all the things that had been going wrong for the Mariners seemed to infect the Yankees. Karns and Felix both got themselves into trouble repeatedly, but in those games the Yankees went an astounding 0-24 with runners in scoring position. Felix actually walked 6 guys in 5 innings but only allowed a single run.
Combined with a change in luck regarding some timely hits for the Mariners, they managed to win the first game easily 7-1 and edged the Yankees in a close one on Saturday 3-2. Saturday’s game also saw new closer Steve Cishek get his first save on his first opportunity of the year, albeit in rather nail-biting fashion. He had runners on second and third with 2 outs when he finally induced the game ending ground ball.
Sunday saw the great Japanese pitching showdown between former team mates Masahiro Tanaka and Hisashi Iwakuma. Both pitched fairly well over 7 innings, but the Yankees managed to salvage a game and won 4-3.
Where are we now
So after a very topsy-turvy week the Mariners now sit at 5-7. Clearly not the ideal start but not the end of the world either. The rest of the division has been quite inconsistent as well, so the M’s only find themselves 1.5 games out of first in spite of their struggles
One thing of some concern is Felix. He clearly did not have his best stuff on Saturday. He seemed to not have command of his fastball. This was true in his start at Safeco as well. As a result, he has been relying a lot more on his off-speed pitches.
While he is still effective this way, he is generating a lot more walks than we are used to seeing. Over his last 2 starts, he has walked 11 batters. The 6 he walked on Saturday was tied for the most in his entire career. Manager Scott Servais indicated that he is having some inconsistency in his mechanics, so hopefully it is something the King can figure out over the next week or so.
Next Side Up
The Mariners will be staying on the road this week. After a day off Monday they will start a 3 game set in Cleveland, followed by a trip to Orange County to face the not really LA Angels of Canoga Park and the greater Santa Barbara area.