For some Mariners it is no longer early
By Shannon Drayer
Some thoughts before a couple of days off:
So, this roadtrip started out so promising and boom (and perhaps that word is appropriate as for the majority of the second half of the trip the home run was the only way the team could score) six straight losses. Surprising? Not really.
I have said all year that that I thought this team would be up and down for the majority of the season. That is what you see when a team has so many young players on it. I suspected when we left Detroit that the runs scored there were mostly due to taking advantage of bad or struggling pitching, for which they deserve credit. They did a lot of things right in that series but the tables turned shortly after that.
Good pitching and close games were hurdles this offense could not get over. They managed to get swept in four games by a total of five runs. Five runs, and they weren’t even playing that well. It by no means is something to hang their caps on but their pitching kept them in those games and they did score some runs. Just not in bunches, which is what they did in Detroit.
RISP became a bad term in the second half of this trip while home run was a puzzling one. Coming into Thursday’s game the team led the American League in home runs over the past nine games. I asked Eric Wedge about that and while he liked the runs, he was concerned that the home runs perhaps reflected something he didn’t want to see.
“I think it is good and bad,” he answered. “I like that we have some guys that are capable of driving the ball out of the ballpark. I don’t want them to think about that. I want them to be hitters first. We came out of the box decent. I think we will get back there but I think they are putting a lot of heat on themselves now.”
Be it the pressure or the approach, the strikeout numbers are alarming. They currently lead the league in strikeouts, which perhaps shouldn’t be surprising for the second youngest team in baseball. But on the heels of the last two seasons it is concerning. And it isn’t limited to the young players.
Wedge is not comfortable with the strikeout numbers and has said that has to change or they will look in different directions in certain roles. It is not too hard to figure out what he is talking about there.
I think we are quickly transitioning from the “it’s early” phase. It’s early for the young players, early in their careers. They have a long way to go to become what they become. How they are handled now could go a long way in what they become later in the season. Is it better to leave a young player in to swing through a struggle or get him out of there? It is different from individual to individual.
With the vets and second- and third-year players it is different. It is easy to get the feeling that Chone Figgins’ days of being automatically written into the lineup are coming to a rapid end. Never mind the o-fers, you can’t have a guy who leads your team in strikeouts at the top of your order day in and day out.
Brendan Ryan is in an ugly slide but Wedge will hang in there with him because of the defense he brings. A run saved is a run saved and while he cannot help his team produce runs right now, Ryan can prevent the other team from scoring them. Wedge said Thursday that with the caliber of defense he plays, if he can be just average or even a little below they are golden. The trick is to get him into that area code. They will continue to try and it will be with him in the lineup for the majority of the time.
The situation with Smoak is not as clear. In dropping him in the lineup Wedge hoped to take some of the pressure off. What happens if he doesn’t produce there? They will cross that bridge when they get to it but I do believe he will be given a good amount of time.
So are changes coming? Probably at the top of the lineup. With Mike Carp back I wouldn’t be surprised to see Figgins lose his starting role – which will force Dustin Ackley into the leadoff spot – and be put into the mix of those who aren’t quite the priority to get at-bats. While this year is about growing the kids, this team still needs to win ballgames and in order to do that, a shakeup is most likely needed.