Five takeaways from the first week of the Mariners’ season
The first week of the Mariners’ season is in the book. Here’s a quick look at the prevailing storylines after two series for the M’s.
Felix is still Felix.
Yes, Felix Hernandez is a little older and his velocity is down a little, but judging by his first two starts of 2016 he’s doing just fine. On opening day at Texas he allowed only one earned run on one hit in six innings, striking out six along the way. He was arguably even better on Sunday, going seven innings of scoreless, three-hit ball with 10 strikeouts against Oakland. His changeup is as filthy as ever, and he certainly gave Seattle plenty of opportunity to win the games. Which brings me to my next point.
The run support is lacking for Felix, again.
Despite those sparkling performances, the King somehow has one loss, one no-decision and zero wins. His ERA is 0.69 and his WHIP is 0.85 in 13 innings pitched, but the Mariners scored just two runs to lose 3-2 on opening day and only pushed across a run on Sunday – on an error, no less – in Sunday’s 2-1 extra-inning defeat. Of course, this is nothing new for Hernandez. In fact, it prompted ESPN.com’s David Schoenfield to delve into the stats and proclaim him the unluckiest pitcher in baseball history.
Keep an eye on how the Mariners hit with runners on.
The story of the offense thus far has been that Seattle has plenty of homer potential but isn’t doing much when batters get on base. In the first six games, the Mariners hit 11 home runs, but seven of those were solo shots. As for when runners were on base, Seattle had 17 hits and seven walks in 82 at-bats for a .207 batting average and .673 OPS. Even worse, with runners in scoring position the Mariners were 6 for 33 with four walks (.182 average, .596 OPS). A lot of focus this offseason for general manager Jerry Dipoto was to build a lineup that had the right mix of on-base guys and run producers. Obviously it’s extremely early in a long season to be making definitive judgments, but at least six games in it’s looked a lot like previous seasons for the Mariners offense.
Scott Servais has some fire to go with his ‘midwestern nice’ personality.
The Mariners’ first-year skipper was perhaps the greatest unknown about the team heading into the season, as Servais had never managed at any level before being hired by Dipoto. Initial observations were that he seemed like a very calm, nice guy, a result of his upbringing in rural Wisconsin. But that doesn’t mean the former MLB catcher doesn’t get a little fired up from time to time. Believe or not, it only took two games into his career to make headlines. He got into a yelling match with Rangers manager Jeff Bannister last Tuesday while the teams nearly brawled, all a result of current Rangers reliever and former Mariner Tom Wilhelmsen drilling Chris Iannetta in the thigh. Servais has a lot of work to do to reach the ranks of notoriously cranky former Seattle skippers Lou Piniella and Lloyd McClendon, but it’s at least apparent he has the potential to get angry when the moment arises.
The bullpen has been OK, except for a one little – OK, big – problem.
In 19 innings, the Mariners relievers are holding opponents to a .138 average, which is quite good. The problem, however, is that of the nine hits they’ve given up, three have been homers, all of which had a dramatic impact on close games in the late innings. Last Friday, closer Steve Cishek pitched the ninth in a tie game, and everything went fine save for a fastball that caught too much of the plate and was taken out to right field by the Athletics’ Chris Coghlan. On Sunday, Cishek was perfect in another ninth inning of a tie game, but it was tied because Joel Peralta surrendered a solo shot in the previous frame to Marcus Semien. An inning later, Coco Crisp got to Nick Vincent, going yard for the eventual game-winning solo homer. All three pitches were mistakes that don’t look all that bad on paper but definitely loomed large in the grand scheme of things.