Hey guys! It's that time of the season again, and the Tigers have another series against the Mariners, so I'm back! With another series preview! I'm not going to rewrite everything from the old post again--if you want to read that one more time, go read it one more time here--but I will run you through what is different about the Mariners since the last time you guys saw them.
Not too long ago someone here on BYB wrote a fanshot pegging the M's as the worst team in the major leagues. Specifically, it was said that their offense was the worst in the Show! I take issue with this statement for a couple of reasons.
• The Mariners are 16th in the Major Leagues in runs, 23rd in slugging, and 21st in average.
• The Mariners are 10th in the Major Leagues in hits.
• The Athletics and the Twins. Oh my god the Twiiiinnnnnnns.
My series prediction hasn't changed since last time. The Mariners have shown that they can beat up on bad teams, that they are not as good as the Rangers or the Rays, and that they occasionally have mental lapses that cost games. They just reeled off a seven-game losing streak, but four of those were one-run losses and two of those losses happened after obviously blown calls that would have swung the outcome of the game if called correctly. I'm betting on a 2-1 Detroit series victory. 2-1 Seattle wouldn't be too surprising. If Seattle sweeps again I'll be shocked. On to the players!
Blake Beavan sneezes quality starts. No one knows how he does it. He doesn't strike anyone out, or walk anyone, or give up any home runs. He throws a very hittable-looking fastball with good command, and that's pretty much it. He's just insanely consistent: he goes out, every game, and throws six or seven innings while allowing three runs. It is boring as hell to watch, and to write about, which is why this is like the same thing I wrote last time. I imagine it must be really frustrating for fans of other teams to watch their hitters flail incompetently at what appear to be huge quantities of meatballs, but there you have it. He's like Doug Fister, but in 2010, i.e. before Doug Fister was traded to Detroit and turned into a freakish right-handed Cliff Lee. "But wait!" you say. "In Blake Beavan's last two outings, he didn't earn quality starts! What is up with that?" Nothing is up with that. In Blake Beavan's last start, he allowed five runs. One of them came after Dustin Ackley and Alex Liddi combined to miss a Luke Scott infield fly that should have been the third out, and one of them came after Michael Saunders Ryan Raburn'd a flyout by Luke Scott into a home run. The start before that, Beavan was pulled after allowing a double with two outs in the fifth after having allowed three runs in previous innings. The man on second didn't score.
Kevin Millwood is almost as boring as Blake Beavan. Millwood used to be fairly well-known, until he got old, and last year he bounced around a bunch of Minor League teams before finally resurging with the Rockies. He signed with the Mariners this year. Anyways, in his first several starts, Millwood has had a schtick: he pitches six or seven innings using mid-velocity stuff that moves well but stays dangerously high in the zone. Exactly one of his innings is awful, and no one knows which it will be. When good hitters are up in that one inning, like what happened against Cleveland, something absurd like eight runs score. When worse hitters are up, maybe only one run scores. It's like roulette, except instead of winning money, you get to watch really awful pitching. The plan for Millwood is as follows: Kevin Millwood will pitch for the Mariners until one of their vaunted trio of SP prospects is deemed ready for the Show. In the meantime, he will be a clubhouse leader and eat a lot of innings in a mediocre fashion with numbers artificially inflated by Safeco Field. When the first prospect is ready, the Mariners will trade Kevin Millwood to whatever poor chump needs rotation help to fight for a playoff spot, taking in return a mid-level prospect or two. At least Millwood knows his fate in advance.
You know that thing that Jason Vargas did last time, the bit where he allowed four runs in seven innings and was completely bland and forgettable? Yeah, he's probably going to do pretty much the exact same thing again. At least, that's what he's done in literally every start so far this season. Consistency!
You guys don't have to face King Felix, but I figured I should let you know: two starts ago, against the Rays, King Felix busted out a new pitch and just murderized them all. Apparently, this offseason Felix decided that being one of the top ten pitchers in baseball wasn't enough for him, so he decided to learn how to throw a cutter. And not just any cutter: Felix learned Mariano Rivera's cutter. Ever wondered what makes Mariano so great? His cutter breaks two inches away from RH hitters and eight inches up, and moves at 91 MPH. For reference, the three next best cutters in the game break two-in five-up (Halladay), two-out five-up (Haren), and three-in six-up (Lee), all at around 85 MPH. It's the combination of vertical movement and velocity that makes Mariano so amazing. Felix's new cutter? One inch in versus RH. Nine inches up versus vacuum. 92 MPH. Before two starts ago, Felix had two pretty good fastballs, a great curve, a great slider, and the best changeup in baseball. Now he has all of those things and also Mariano Rivera's cutter. In his most recent game, he didn't use it. Maybe he decided he didn't need it to one-hit the Twins for eight innings.
Erasmo Ramirez is gone, not because he was bad, but because Hector Noesi was not terrible. Noesi is not as good as Ramirez, but he hasn't imploded yet, and management wants to show him off to make the Pineda trade look good (not that that's particularly necessary now that both of the players the Yankees received in it are injured), so Ramirez went down to AAA to stretch out some more in case they need him for spot starts later on. In his place is Shawn Kelley, a RH short reliever who started the season on the roster and was demoted immediately after allowing a mammoth home run to Yoenis Cespedes. He was a really interesting RP prospect before he got hurt not long after being called up. Tommy John surgery did not do wonders for his fastball, but he was good in the majors late last year and murderous in AAA early this year, so he's up again.
Now that the pig farmer has been around a little longer, his nature is becoming clearer. The guy relies on his excellent slider to screw with left handed hitters, and he's decent versus RHBs as well. He's a little more walk-prone that you'd like in a LOOGY, but he hasn't allowed very many hard-hit balls. George Sherrill, the team's intended LOOGY, is out for the season getting Tommy John, so it appears Luetge is here to stay. I'm fine with that.
Brandon League is having some problems this year. He's still a good reliever, don't get me wrong, but he hasn't been as dominant this year so far as he was last year, mostly because his command has been iffy. League's two pitches are a 97 MPH fastball with nasty tail and a murderous split that, back in 2009, was statistically (in terms of runs allowed per pitch) the single best pitch in baseball. However, he throws the split almost exclusively in pitcher's counts. For some reason, despite his wicked stuff, League has never struck out very many dudes--he's survived because he's always had a stupid low walk rate and the splitter induces absurd numbers of ground balls. This year, he's had trouble getting the fastball to go exactly where he wants it to, and this has put him in hitter's counts more often, thus depriving him of his best pitch. "Throw the splitter in hitters' counts, too!" you say. Mariners fans say that too. Maybe he's afraid that if he does, the hitters will just stare at it--it's great at inducing swinging strikes, but umps don't like calling it a strike even when it's right in the middle of the zone. Maybe he's stupid. But he's been less effective this year than before.
Chone Figgins, at the beginning of the season, was given every opportunity to find himself again. He was put back at his old spot at the top of the order! He was given regular playing time! He felt great! He... was still bad. He was demoted to the bench, and Mike Carp is getting his playing time out in left field.
Miguel Olivo pulled a muscle in his groin and will be on the DL for the next two or three weeks. This is what you call "addition by subtraction". Miguel Olivo, if you are reading this, I am sorry.
Dustin Ackley is the Mariners' new leadoff hitter, and this is good for the Mariners. However, Dustin Ackley did not have a very good April--because, hilariously, he was too patient. Ackley has a tendency to stare at too many close pitches, and even though he's usually right, sometimes he is not--or the umpires are not. He's been finding himself in 0-2 counts with alarming frequency, and this means less walks, worse contact, and more strikeouts than usual. That's the bad news, for Mariners fans. The good news for Mariners fans, which I guess is the bad news for most Tigers fans, is that "Dustin Ackley" is pretty much synonymous with "slow start". Last year, he was bad in April. The year before, he was bad in April. Actually, last year he had this exact same patience problem in the minors, and he fixed it partway through May. Then he started just absolutely destroying the minor leagues, and he got called up and was pretty darn good in the major leagues too. May is usually when Dustin Ackley gets hot, though I guess Dustin Ackley is probably always hot if you're into dudes. Prepare for Dustin Ackley hotness!
Fun fact number one: Kyle Seager is hitting .297/.312/.516 with four home runs. Fun fact number two: So far this season, accounting for defense, Kyle Seager has been worth more WAR than Miguel Cabrera. Now there's a sentence I didn't think I would be typing two months ago.
Justin Smoak is slumping badly, and has been demoted from the cleanup slot to the #7 hole in the Mariners lineup. Some fans are wondering if he should be sent down to AAA to work things out. This April has been by far the worst uninjured month of Smoak's career: in addition to his problems with low offspeed pitches, he hasn't been making enough contact and his power has seemed sapped. It's said that power can be the last thing to come back after hand injuries like Smoak's, and that may be what we're seeing now. He has also been, again, the recipient of absolutely godawful luck. The power drop has killed his home runs, but that's not the worst of it: check out his sexy .043 BABIP on fly balls. Wondering where the doubles went? That's where the doubles went. Yeesh.
No one has any idea what spurred it, but sometime during that series in Detroit Michael Saunders found his swing. He is now a good defensive center fielder with power and speed, albeit not batting average skills. He basically singlehandedly defeated the Blue Jays right after the Detroit series with 5 RBI and two home runs in a single game. That was the pinnacle of Michael Saunders' performance so far this season, and though he's cooled off significantly since, he's looked consistently solid enough that I have actually seen someone compare him to a left-handed Mike Cameron. Now, I know what you're going to say, and I agree: that's almost certainly wishful thinking. But consider: last season, Mariners fans were comparing Michael Saunders to a tall plant holding a baseball bat. Now they are comparing him to one of the ten most beloved Mariners of all time. That's what I call progress. He still bats in the bottom of the order for reasons no one fully understands.
With Olivo gone, Jaso is splitting catching duties with Montero. This is good news for the Mariners, because John Jaso is actually pretty good at hitting. He walks a lot. There's a reason John Jaso was almost the 2010 Rookie of the Year! It turns out, though, that he's not a very good catcher. Well... he's perfectly fine at catching, I guess, but he's not great at playing catcher--to be more specific, his throwing arm is terribad. So he's not a very good... thrower? I guess? That first statement wasn't very accurate. But hey, neither is John Jaso!
Mike Carp was the Mariners' starting left fielder to open the season after a 2011 campaign that saw him rework his entire approach at the plate. Before last year, Carp was a high-walk guy who survived by making a lot of contact, but not hitting for power. At the urging of his best friend, Carp lost a lot of weight two offseasons ago and completely changed his game, becoming a high-power, high-strikeout hitter. He was the Mariners' best hitter, actually, after he finally got called up, going on a twenty-game hit streak and winning Rookie of the Month honors for August. Ackley was more valuable because Ackley is a good offensive 2B and Carp is a good offensive LF/1B, but Carp showed that he can be about league average in LF. The upside is there: he's proven that he can walk at an elite level, and he's proven that he can hit for excellent power. The thing is, he's never done both at the same time. The hope is that he can put the two halves together, but this doesn't seem altogether likely. If he doesn't walk, he's basically Casper Wells but LH and slower.
Tragically, Carp's best friend Greg Halman was stabbed to death at his home in the Netherlands this past offseason. After returning from the funeral in the Netherlands, Carp designed and bought orange shirts for each of his teammates featuring Halman's number, 56, and favorite saying, "No grind, no shine". He also duplicated (on his shoulder) Halman's favorite tattoo, a globe with baseball stitching on it and stars over Seattle and the Netherlands with the inscribed text "My World". Last year, Mariners fans knew nothing about Mike Carp. Now he is something of a fan favorite.
The verdict is in on Montero's catcher defense: he is better than Miguel Olivo. Fewer passed balls more than make up for the slightly weaker throwing arm. However, he has shown that he has a hard time catching Tom Wilhelmsen's curve. Also, he's found the bat and taken Smoak's cleanup slot.
I dunno, guys. Liddi's earned himself more lineup time, but I'm not entirely sold on the idea that he's actually good and not just off to a hot start. He certainly hasn't had enough at bats to constitute an actual sample size yet. The verdict is out on Liddi until we have more data. His plate approach does appear better, so maybe the Ks will be reduced, but no one really knows.
With Ackley leadoff, the team doesn't have a real #2 hitter that's not an LHB, so Brendan Ryan has been hitting there as an interim measure. This is bad for the Mariners, unless Ryan suddenly gets really hot at the plate, which he's known to do for about two two-week stretches per year. Smoak's continued struggles are painful to watch. Ackley has seemed much better in recent games, though maybe that was because he was playing the Twins. The team seems like it's finally figured out a solid MOTO, though everyone not named Dustin Ackley needs more walks. But the upshot is that the Mariners, since the departures of Figgins and Olivo, finally have started putting out lineups that the fans feel confident in.
So anyways, that's it for the changes since last time. Everything else is pretty much the same, so you can go reread the older fanpost if your memory has slipped. I hope this one's useful; I'll be hanging around during the series providing lineup previews and maybe some game thread commentary for you guys. If you've got any more questions or comments, just leave them on this fanpost and I'll try to answer them.