By Jim Moore
No one can say it’s early anymore. After Saturday’s game against the Cubs, the Mariners will be at the halfway point of the season.
They’re on a pace to go 70-92 and finish five games worse than last year’s team. If that happens, Ryan Divish of The News Tribune said Thursday on “Wyman, Mike & Moore” that general manager Jack Zduriencik and manager Eric Wedge will likely be fired.
The return of Dustin Ackley, now an outfielder instead of a second baseman, from Triple-A is part of the Mariners’ midseason youth movement. (AP)
I thought the Mariners would be 85-77. For that to happen, they’d have to go 51-32 the rest of the way.
I also thought they’d hit 200 home runs. They’re on a pace to hit 178.
At the very least, I thought they’d be more entertaining. I thought they’d hit better than Mariner teams from the past. Maybe their pitching wouldn’t be quite as good, but the bats would compensate for that this year.
As is too frequently the case, I was wrong. The Mariners are hitting .236. They average 3.6 runs a game. The fences have come in, and Safeco Field still isn’t a friendly hitters’ park for the home team. Nor is any other park, for that matter.
Some hope is on the way. Dustin Ackley, who hit .365 for Tacoma, will be in left field or center field Friday night against the Cubs.
After seeing Ackley ground out to second base over and over again before he was demoted, I’m skeptical. But maybe he’s cleared his head. Maybe he’ll quit thinking and start hitting.
And as far as Ackley moving from second base to outfield, I thought it was crazy at first. But now I’m of the mind to think: “Why not?” Especially with Nick Franklin looking like a permanent fixture at second base.
Plus, the Mariners are starved for outfielders, particularly ones who can cover some ground. Every position is up for grabs. Jason Churchill of Prospect Insider told us that he thinks the 2014 starting outfield for the Mariners on opening day will consist of players who are not currently in the organization.
Maybe Ackley can change that way of thinking. Maybe not. But why not find out? The season’s shot anyway. Time to experiment, and I like that the Mariners are exploring an option that ideally would be tried in Peoria before the season, not during the season in Seattle.
Then there’s the callup of Brad Miller at shortstop. Even though the Cubs are starting left-hander Travis Wood with a 2.85 ERA, expect Miller to replace Brendan Ryan Friday night.
The lefty-swinging Miller averaged .356 in Tacoma and hit .329 against left-handers. He hit a home run in his last Rainiers game Thursday night and finished his stint in Tacoma with a 22-game hitting streak.
The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder out of Clemson can flat-out hit, and the thing I’m looking forward to most is his ability to deliver in the clutch – he batted .462 with runners in scoring position at Tacoma.
The downside? He’s not Ryan defensively. Then again, who is? According to U.S.S. Mariner, in 212 minor-league games, he has committed 55 errors. Apparently he makes the tough plays but goofs up from time to time on routine plays.
As recently as Thursday, I was still supporting Ryan, thinking that his defense makes up for a .196 average. I got lit up on the Text Toy for that. In hindsight, the texters are probably right – on a better-hitting team, you could probably put up with Ryan’s weak bat; on this team, you can’t.
Maybe Miller will be the shortstop of the future. If that’s the case, you’d have four positions solidified for the future with Kyle Seager at third, Franklin at second, Miller at short and Mike Zunino at catcher.
You’re still looking for starting outfielders and someone to take over at first base – Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero aren’t the greatest candidates in the world anymore.
But when you look at the possibilities in the 2014 rotation, it’s easier to be a little more optimistic.
You’ve got Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma as locks. Then you’ve got Brandon Maurer, Erasmo Ramirez, Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen and maybe even Jeremy Bonderman battling for the last three spots.
Before we reach that point, there’s still a half-season to go. Have the Mariners rushed some of their prospects to the major leagues?
Probably, but I’m glad that they have. After awhile, you get sick of seeing the same old Mariners, and the new faces could provide a spark to a flickering season.