Without Cano, the M’s lack of punch becomes clear

Jun 1, 2014, 4:05 PM | Updated: Jun 2, 2014, 10:51 am

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With Robinson Cano out with an injury, the M’s were stuck with Michael Saunders and Mike Zunino hitting third. (AP)

By Brent Stecker

The Mariners’ lineup with Robinson Cano is one thing.

With Cano, Seattle has the presence of a true superstar hitter in the No. 3 hole, making it somewhat easy for manager Lloyd McClendon to fill in the spots around him, even if the team lacks that one true home-run hitter.

But without Cano, which the Mariners have been for the past four days while he’s nursed a left-hand contusion, their lineup looks downright feeble, even if they did just take two of three from the Tigers.

Cano missed Thursday’s series finale against the Angels and the entire three-game set with Detroit, and one look at the batting order from each of those games could bring to mind the age-old adage “You don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone.” Because for all the belly aching going on about Cano’s lack of power this season, he’s still one of the best hitters in baseball, and by far the best on the Mariners’ roster.

So instead of Cano and his .327 batting average (third in the American League), the No. 3 spot has been manned by either right fielder Michael Saunders or sophomore catcher Mike Zunino, neither of whom can hold a candle to Cano’s production. Not that they should be expected to, either, considering their contracts are nowhere near Cano’s blockbuster 10-year, $240 million deal.

With the Tigers in town, it was borderline laughable to see the imbalance of talent in the opposing dugouts. On Sunday, Detroit had Ian Kinsler, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter, all multiple-time All-Stars, hitting 2-5. On Sunday, Seattle’s 1-4 was 36-year-old Endy Chavez (fresh up from Triple-A), rookie James Jones, Saunders and Justin Smoak (.221 batting average). Oh, and did I mention on the mound for Detroit was reigning Cy Young winner Max Scherzer?

Of course, baseball is a funny game, and the Mariners actually beat Scherzer and won the series against Detroit. But don’t go on assuming that’s sustainable. Pitching from Roenis Elias and Chris Young was a big part of the wins, and the clutch hits mostly came from bench players like Willie Bloomquist and Cole Gillespie. What it didn’t include was help from a big bat, because there really aren’t any for the Mariners to turn to with Cano and Corey Hart (hamstring) both out with injuries.

The Mariners (28-28) are once again sitting at .500, an already remarkable accomplishment considering the lineup they trot out most days, even when Cano and Hart are healthy. This shouldn’t be treated like a gift, though, but instead an opportunity. And in the next week, the Mariners need to pounce.

Pounce on what, exactly?

Kendrys Morales.

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Kendrys Morales, who was the Mariners’ most consistent hitter in 2013, has yet to sign a contract this season, as teams have been scared off by the draft-pick compensation attached to him. (AP)

That’s right, the guy who led Seattle in most offensive categories last season, the free agent who we expected the Mariners to bring back all offseason, the guy who Cano himself said the M’s should be pursuing in spring training. Morales is still out there, and the entire reason for teams shying away from signing him – he’d cost his employer an all-important first-round draft pick – is just about to be null and void with the MLB Draft set to begin Thursday.

There will be a battle for his services, just like his agent Scott Boras has hoped for. And there should be – Morales had a .277 batting average, .785 OPS, 23 home runs and 80 RBIs in 2013. That’s the kind of production that would help any team, but especially the Mariners, who could use him at designated hitter and send Hart to the outfield when he returns.

A Cano-less Mariners lineup with Morales at least looks respectable. With both, it may have the possibility of scoring runs on a consistent basis. And with Cano, Morales, and Hart all together, who knows? Maybe the Mariners can actually make a run at a wild card berth.

Hey, it’s not the craziest idea. That would be not going after Morales at all.

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Without Cano, the M’s lack of punch becomes clear