To the baseball fan Memorial Weekend has always been a special milestone. Up until now we talk about what kind of a "start" teams and players are having. From this point on, enough games have passed that the discussion is now what kind of "season" is the team or player having. What better time for a report card on the Seattle Mariners?
When the season began the prediction here was that the Mariners would be an improved team from last year. That has, in fact, been the case. We also predicted that the Mariners would be hard pressed to stay in the battle for post-season play unless a lot of things went right. The M's, so far, have been outpacing that prediction. Going into Friday night's home tilt against the woeful Houston Astros Seattle is 23-23 and only a game out of the second Wild Card spot.
So, how have they done it? Has their hitting been superb? Has the team found the magic elixir in one run games? No and no. In fact Seattle is only 5-8 in one run games. So how have they accomplished .500? Can they continue?
The Mariners are second to last (14th) in the American League in batting average. They are 10th in home runs and dead last in On Base Percentage. Robinson Cano, their bell-cow and major free agent signee, while hitting a robust .322 has only hit two home runs to this point. Clearly, offense hasn't carried the Mariners to this position of Wild Card contention.
If you have guessed by now that the Mariners are contending because of their pitching, paint a Mariners compass logo on your house, for you are a winner! Seattle's team E.R.A is 3.51 and their opposing hitter's batting average is .239. Both statistics rank Seattle second in the American League.
"King" Felix Hernandez has been great. That is to be expected for the Venezuelan ace who may find himself enshrined in Cooperstown someday. He's 5-1 entering Friday's scheduled start with an E.R.A. of 2.94. But the Mariners' story on the hill only begins with Hernandez. Number Two starter Hisashi Iwakuma has shaken off the injuries that delayed the start of his season. Iwakuma is undefeated in three decisions with an E.R.A of (are you sitting down) 1.76! Third starter Roenis Elias is 3-3, but could have a much better record with a little more support from the dormant bats. Elias has an E.R.A of 3.68 and a WHIP (walks+hits/innings pitched) of 1.33. That's an excellent number, especially for a starter who pitches down in the rotation.
Mariners' closer Fernando Rodney has been...okay. Rodney has 12 saves in 14 attempts, but is allowing too many runners in his one inning (or less) outings. His WHIP is 1.58. That's too high for a closer.
Can the Mariners keep up the pace that they have set thus far? Can they do it with only one platoon carrying the mail? We're going to answer that with a qualified...maybe. The advent of the second Wild Card team keeps more teams in it for a longer period of time. Can the M's challenge for a division lead? They are 6.5 behind Oakland at this point. We are going to call that pretty unlikely without some offensive input behind a pitching staff that is doing all that it can do and then some.
But Seattle fans have reason to go to Safeco Field over Memorial Weekend. Who knows? They may have reason to go to the yard deep into the summer months.