Table Setter: Are the Mariners being too aggressive at the plate?

May 7, 2018, 1:46 AM | Updated: 1:48 am
Robinson Cano and the Mariners were held scoreless in 24 of 29 innings against the Angels. (AP)...
Robinson Cano and the Mariners were held scoreless in 24 of 29 innings against the Angels. (AP)

For just the second time this season, the Seattle Mariners are coming off a series loss.

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The Angels rode strong starting pitching to two wins in their three-game series at Safeco Field, taking control of the American League West division from Houston. The Mariners (19-14), meanwhile, are still just a game and a half behind the Angels for first place as they head to Toronto for three games to kick off a seven-game road trip.

Here are three storylines to follow this week with the M’s.

Is the offense making starting pitchers work enough?

This Mariners offense can seize an opportunity and put together a rally in the blink of an eye. But has been seen regularly this season, Seattle is also susceptible to long stretches of scoreless baseball – especially if a starting pitcher has the Mariners’ hitters figured out.

That all has to do with the way the offense was constructed. By design, the 2018 Mariners don’t see a lot of pitches. In fact, the only MLB team seeing less pitches per plate appearance is the Atlanta Braves, with Seattle checking in at 3.68 PPA through 33 games.

Is that a problem? Not always.

The Mariners are built to pounce on pitchers that catch too much of the plate, especially relievers, and they’ve done so to some success. It’s why they were able to come back from three separate deficits against the Angels bullpen to win in extra innings Saturday. But it can also prevent them from getting to bullpens and instead having to spend valuable later innings against a tough starting pitcher whose pitch count hasn’t been driven up. Just look at the weekend series against the Angels, where the Mariners were shut out in 24 of the 29 innings they played and scored all of four runs against Anaheim starters.

The aggressive approach at the plate has been successful for some recent World Series champions, and it’s a factor in Seattle scoring over 4 1/2 runs per game and jumping out to a good start this season. It’s also part of why the Mariners have been held to two runs or less 13 times in 33 games and are a combined 2-5 against the two teams they’re chasing in the American League West – Houston and Anaheim.

A potential ace re-emerges.

The Mariners’ starting rotation has been no great shakes, and an iffy start to the year by James Paxton was a big reason why. Paxton pitched like an ace more often than not in 2017, but the big lefty from Ladner, British Columbia wasn’t able to stay healthy enough last year to truly assume that role. Being the owner of a 5.12 ERA after his first six starts this season didn’t help in that respect.

And then this happened.

Paxton didn’t just provide a glimpse back at the pitcher who turned heads last season. He shattered a ceiling, striking out 16 – six more than his previous career-high – in just seven innings against the A’s last Wednesday thanks to an overpowering fastball. It was the most dominant he has ever been in a Mariners uniform, reaching territory seldom seen in team history, and doing so with far less pitches to work with in the current day and age than Randy Johnson or Mark Langston did.

So, is “James Paxton: Next Seattle Mariners Ace” back on?

We’ll just have to see if whatever he tapped into against Oakland has traveled along with him to his native Canada, where he’ll be on the mound to face the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday. The Mariners certainly need Paxton back on his A-game to tip the scales for a starting rotation that currently features three pitchers with ERAs over 5.

Is Ryon Healy for real?

For the second straight week, the Mariners’ hottest hitter is their first baseman, Ryon Healy.

Despite missing nearly three weeks with a sprained ankle, Healy has been on fire in the 10 games since his return from the DL, hitting .333 with five home runs and 11 RBIs over that stretch. He was the key in Seattle’s lone win over the Angels, too, delivering the walk-off RBI single that capped off Saturday’s thrilling 9-8 extra innings victory.

Healy endured a brutal beginning to his Mariners tenure, producing all of two hits in six games before his trip to the DL. The University of Oregon product has endeared himself to fans over the last two weeks, however, raising his average by 155 points and playing strong defense all the while. The 26-year-old Healy may finally be the answer the Mariners have been looking for at first base for a long time.

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Table Setter: Are the Mariners being too aggressive at the plate?