Stecker’s 3 Things: With addition of Yonder Alonso, Mariners hoping to outslug their woeful rotation
The Mariners will start a two-game series in Oakland on Tuesday night with an interesting new player in their lineup: Oakland’s lone All-Star representative from this season. That’s because it will be the Mariners debut of Yonder Alonso, whom Seattle acquired for outfielder Boog Powell in a surprising move Sunday. Here’s a closer look at what the addition of Alonso means for the M’s and some other things to keep in mind this week about the team.
1. If at first you can’t add pitching, just get more offense.
Leave it to general manager Jerry Dipoto to wait until after the non-waiver trade deadline to pull off his biggest move of the season. Of course, that’s not to say Dipoto didn’t try to do something of the magnitude of the Alonso trade before July 31. But then he was mostly looking for an impact starting pitcher, and that market didn’t materialize in a way that allowed the Mariners to be a player. So while the pitching staff is still with its limitations, Dipoto instead opted to round out Seattle’s offense, hoping that the M’s can simply bash their way into a playoff berth. The addition of an All-Star first baseman could go a long way in making that a reality. Alonso’s been a prolific power hitter this season against right-handed pitching, crushing righties for a .948 on-base plus slugging percentage, 18 homers and 15 doubles in 255 at-bats. That kind of production could do some serious damage sandwiched between Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager in the order, and with his friend Danny Valencia (.919 OPS vs lefties) still getting the starts at first base against southpaw starters, Alonso will also occasionally be an excellent pinch-hitting option late in games for Seattle. The Mariners’ lineup just got a little longer, and now we’ll see if Seattle can take a page out of the book of its slugging playoff teams from the 1990s to end its 15-year postseason drought.
2. So, about this starting rotation.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about expectations for Seattle’s starting pitchers. Frankly, they need to be tempered from here and out. Felix Hernandez is back on the disabled list, this time with biceps tendinitis, and it’s probably best to not get concerned about whether or not he’ll be rejoin the pitching staff before the end of the season because you can’t really count on him being more than a No. 3 or No. 4 starter at this point. The Mariners are lucky to have James Paxton pitching like a Cy Young Award candidate, because the rest of the rotation is Ariel Miranda, Yovani Gallardo, Erasmo Ramirez and Marco Gonzales. To put it another way, they have an ace and four pitchers you just hope can get through six innings with the lead within reach. It’s not a recipe for making a playoff run, but it kinda is if the offense scores six runs a night. Crazier things have happened.
3. Seems like a good time to talk about defense.
OK, so the Mariners suddenly have an offense with five hitters ranked in the American League’s top 40 in OPS but also a starting rotation of which its current members not named James Paxton have combined to throw just 12 quality starts this season. If ever there was a reason to shine a spotlight on defense, this is it. The Mariners can expect to be in a lot of close games for the rest of the season, making defense a priority because anything misplayed will likely be magnified. The good news is Seattle is seventh in the majors this year in defensive runs above average, according to FanGraphs. Just going around the diamond, you can see why. Seager and Robinson Cano have Gold Gloves. Jean Segura’s defense at short saved a game in Houston last month. Mike Zunino hasn’t wowed behind the plate this year, but he’s still Mike Zunino. And the outfield is incredible – Jarrod Dyson has a case for a Gold Glove this year, Leonys Martin has had a case for one in previous years, and Ben Gamel’s no slouch out there. When your fourth outfielder is Guillermo Heredia, who has proven himself this year to be one of baseball’s better defenders in the outfield, you’re in good hands. The Mariners just need to pitch well enough to take advantage of those gloves.