BRENT STECKER

Mariners Table Setter: Like preseason predictions, offense and bullpen getting it done for M’s

Apr 30, 2018, 2:03 PM | Updated: 2:12 pm
Ryon Healy hit three home runs in the Mariners' two wins over the weekend. (AP)...
Ryon Healy hit three home runs in the Mariners' two wins over the weekend. (AP)
(AP)

The Seattle Mariners will begin the month of May with a 16-11 record – their best standing through April since they went 17-10 in 2003.

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It’s officially a strong start for the M’s, a team that hasn’t had too many of those in the past 15 years. And at least over their recent 7-3 road trip, the Mariners can point to what were thought to be the team’s two biggest strengths as the reasons why they bring considerable momentum back to Safeco Field for a six-game homestand beginning Tuesday against the Oakland A’s.

Here are three storylines to follow this week with the Mariners.

1. Ryon Healy, No. 9 hitter.

Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto didn’t trade for first baseman Ryon Healy to have manager Scott Servais use him as the ninth hitter in Seattle’s lineup, but over the weekend it made sense to have him there after he returned from a sprained ankle suffered April 7.

The results were encouraging, and that’s probably an understatement.

Healy hammered the first home run of his Mariners career in a 12-4 win Saturday, then added two more in Sunday’s 10-4 victory that sealed a series victory in Cleveland. It’s been night and day compared to his performance in six games prior to his ankle injury, when he went just 2 for 22 (.091). Healy is currently on a five-game hitting streak (dating back to his last game before his injury) and has hit .375 with four extra base hits, five runs scored and six RBIs since his return.

Don’t expect Healy to keep up his average and on-base percentage too high. That’s why he’s not a particularly popular player with the more analytical types, but that won’t matter much if he continues to smack home runs batting in the bottom third of the Mariners order.

First base has been a revolving door for a long time in Seattle. Just over the past five years, they’ve had Danny Valencia, Yonder Alonso, Adam Lind, Dae-Ho Lee, Logan Morrison, Kendrys Morales and Justin Smoak at the position. The hope is that the 26-year-old Healy becomes a long-term answer at the spot, and this weekend he provided a glimpse what the future at first could be like.

2. The best Mariners lineup in over a decade.

With Healy back, Servais was able to finally write out a lineup card with the nine players he and the Mariners would prefer to make up their batting order. All of the sudden, everywhere Cleveland pitchers turned was trouble.

What do you do when Dee Gordon and Jean Segura are setting up Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager? Or when the No. 6 hitter is Mitch Haniger, one of only three players in the big leagues already with 10 home runs? And when Mike Zunino, Ben Gamel and Healy make up the bottom third of the order?

The answer, this weekend at least, was give up 32 runs over four games.

The Mariners have a legitimately dangerous lineup, one that features five All-Stars and has at least one more player looking to become a sixth by midseason. And that lineup is the biggest reason Seattle is off to its best start in 15 years.

3. The 2018 Mariners are here.

That’s not an entirely positive statement.

Yes, the Mariners are 16-11. The lineup right now is one of the best in the majors. The bullpen has apparently found its groove, to the point Edwin Diaz and company were named Bullpen of the Week. That all fits the script written about the team entering the season – the M’s were expected to have a good lineup, a solid bullpen, and maybe not the best starting rotation.

Looking back over April, that has all become true.

The offense has a .757 on-base plus slugging percentage, good enough for fifth in the MLB – even a little better the defending World Series champion and current American League West-leading Houston Astros.

The bullpen projection has been pretty much spot-on. The relievers have seen their ups and downs, but when veteran setup man Juan Nicasio found another gear last week and teamed up with an apparently superhuman Diaz, the group of relievers sure seemed reliable once given a lead.

But then there’s the starting rotation, which has actually been more of an issue than maybe predicted. Felix Hernandez leads the starters in ERA – at 4.96. James Paxton is coming around but hasn’t been able to crack how to get through the seventh inning yet. Mike Leake is 3-2 but also given up 17 earned runs over his last three starts (15 1/3 innings). In two starts since coming off the DL, Erasmo Ramirez has struggled, giving up 11 runs in 9 2/3 innings and causing some to call for Seattle to bring Ariel Miranda back from Triple-A to be the fifth starter. Only one starter is possibly out-pitching his expectations: Marco Gonzales, who has a 5.02 ERA but is also coming off back-to-back quality starts.

The offense and bullpen carried the load in the first month, but if the Mariners are going to make serious noise in the postseason race, the rotation will need to be addressed.

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Mariners Table Setter: Like preseason predictions, offense and bullpen getting it done for M’s