Mariners’ one through four settling in
By Shannon Drayer
The Mariners just finished what clearly was not one of their better homestands. They went 2-4 against Boston and Oakland with the offense seemingly MIA. Eric Wedge pointed to failure to come through with runners in scoring position, as the main concern after Sunday’s 4-2 loss. As it should be with the team going a miserable 2 for 21 against the A’s.
Ugly numbers to say the least, but as I said on the post-game show, I don’t feel like this is another dip on the roller-coaster season of youth. Frustrating, yes, but I think we have the answers that we need at this point going forward.
As great as it would be to see this team finish September strong (against very strong opponents), and as much as I would like to see another winning month, I am not sure how much of a difference it makes in the evaluations, in particular of the players that have been here for the majority of the season.
We have discussed individuals going forward but something that jumped out at me over the last few weeks is a grouping in the batting order. The one through four has the looks of something that could be something somewhere not too far down the line if a) individuals take steps forward, and b) individuals – mostly Franklin Gutierrez – stay healthy.
Before we take a closer look at this, remember the goal this offseason will be to add offense. If the Mariners have learned anything this year, it is that they don’t yet have the impact bat they have been looking for, for years. That will have to be added regardless of the possibility that an impact bat or bats of the future could already be on the roster.
Eric Wedge thinks Michael Saunders has the potential to hit anywhere in Seattle’s lineup “depending on how he continues to develop.” (AP)
This lineup needs help. We have known that from the get-go, but next year should be different. The year of evaluating will be a thing of the past, and it will be time to move forward, and in order to do that the young lineup will need help. That help will have to come from the outside, so when looking at what the Mariners have now, allow for the great possibility that a three, four or five hitter could be, should be, added either via free agency or trade this offseason.
So what of that one through four? On Aug. 11 Wedge rolled out a one through four of Dustin Ackley, Michael Saunders, Kyle Seager, and John Jaso against Anaheim, which helped break a five-game losing streak. He went with the same top of the order the next night and the team again got a win, this time against Jered Weaver. He has largely stuck with this order since then, with Gutierrez taking over the two spot when healthy, and Jaso platooning with Jesus Montero in the cleanup spot. It is as consistent a portion of the lineup as we have seen all year. I recently asked Wedge if this was something he could see as solid going forward, provided the young players took a step forward and Gutierrez stayed healthy.
“I like it,” he remarked of the order. “Would we love to have a veteran big bopper in the middle? No doubt about it because I think it takes some pressure off people above and below them, but I like those hitters, and if they continue to develop and be better hitters, which I fully anticipate them doing, then it really starts to get interesting.”
Wedge has said all along that he sees Ackley as a one, two or three hitter. With his speed it makes sense if he takes the major step forward that many still think he can take.
Gutierrez at his best could fit nicely at two or three but for now best fills the need for a right-handed bat at two.
What do you think of Seager at three? For now, on this club it makes sense but if the veteran bopper were brought in perhaps he would drop a bit lower in the order. Or he takes another step forward in his second season and solidifies his hold on that spot.
As for cleanup, Wedge says for now he likes the Montero/Jaso platoon in that spot (often with the other lower in the order) but again, in order for Montero to step up and own that position he will have to continue to develop in both consistency and greater power numbers.
There is another option that Wedge is excited about.
“I don’t want to leave out a Michael Saunders, either,” he said. “I think Michael Saunders can potentially hit anywhere in the lineup, depending on how he continues to develop. He is a strong young man getting better every day. He could end up anywhere.”
That is potentially five spots, six if you go with Jaso and Montero in the same game, that have the looks of being a solid part of the offensive core of this team. Not a finished product, but something you can go forward with. Something you can commit to adding more costly talent to. That leaves two to three spots to get that help as I think it is safe to go ahead and pencil in Brendan Ryan at nine.
Some big questions are being answered here. For all that has been said about what this team doesn’t have, the potential for what they could have – and this is different potential than what we saw going into the season, as we now know more about these hitters – could be significant. A big part of the order could be in place and that in turn can help with development, according to Wedge.
“It says something about our young people that they are settling in,” he said. “When you can really settle in people have an idea of what to expect when they come to the ballpark, then you really start working toward something.”
If that is the case then we should be getting closer to “something.”