Seattle Starting to Gel

After missing months with shoulder trouble, 21-year-old Taijuan Walker is ready to contribute to the Mariners rotation. (Getty Images)

After missing months with shoulder trouble, 21-year-old Taijuan Walker is ready to contribute to the Mariners rotation. (Getty Images)

Way back before the season started, I predicted the Seattle Mariners to have one of the best rotations in baseball. I called it a dark horse pick at the time, but it was not a particularly daring one, given that the projected rotation featured one of the best pitchers in baseball (Felix Hernandez), a No. 2 starter who had been excellent since coming over from Japan in 2012 (Hisashi Iwakuma), and two of the top pitching prospects in baseball (Taijuan Walker and James Paxton).

Then, well, April happened. Iwakuma missed the first month with a finger problem, Walker went on the shelf with a shoulder injury, Paxton followed him with shoulder issues of his own after only two starts, and the Mariners spent the early part of the season giving regular innings to rookie Roenis Elias, Brandon Maurer, Erasmo Ramirez and eventually Chris Young. The pitching Chris Young. That pitching Chris Young.

Maurer has been as much of a disaster as might have been anticipated, though he has been impressive since his return after going down to the minors and converting to relief, but the rest of the rotation has dazzled. Seattle’s rotation has allowed just 3.43 runs per game, the fewest in the majors, and while that requires park adjustment due to Safeco being an extremely pitching-friendly environment, the Seattle staff as a whole still has a 117 ERA+ — the third-best in baseball. Young is having his best season since 2007, his lone appearance in the All-Star Game; Iwakuma has helped stabilize the rotation since his return; and Hernandez is having his best season in years. It’s helped the starters that their bullpen has been categorically excellent as well.

And now, finally, Walker has joined the fun. Walker made his 2014 debut against the Houston Astros on Monday night to ease him into facing big league hitting — he gave up three earned runs, five hits, struck out six and walked two in six innings — and barring any further shoulder problems should, from here forward, get a permanent spot in the rotation of a team looking to contend down the stretch.

The great news for Seattle is that unlike other franchises with great pitching on the horizon, the Mariners don’t need Walker to immediately step up and be the guy the way that, say, the Yankees have needed Masahiro Tanaka to be the guy — they already have Hernandez on the staff, and he’s already performing at the top of his game. Walker doesn’t need to transition from “best pitcher in the farm system” to “best pitcher on the major league club;” he just needs to settle in, pitch his game and get acquainted with the big leagues. Hernandez, Young, and Iwakuma are, for the moment, taking care of the heavy lifting three out of every five days, even if few believe that Young can maintain his pace all season long.

And should Paxton make his way back off the disabled list soon — “soon” being a relative term, given that he is just now progressing to 25-pitch bullpen sessions and still has simulated games and then rehab starts to get through — the Mariners might actually have the rotation they looked like they might have at the beginning of the season, combined with one of the league’s best (if not the best) bullpens.

Considering how anemic the offense has been overall, it’s that kind of quality pitching they’ll need if they’re going to catch the Angels, let alone the Athletics. But as hard as a climb as that’s going to be in 2014, the Mariners have already shown enough in the first half that a healthy Walker — along with one or two bats at the deadline — might be enough to help them sneak into a wild card berth in the second.

38 thoughts on “Seattle Starting to Gel

  1. Pingback: MLBVoice » Blog Archive » GAME ON! TUESDAY – It’s FUN! Talkin’ Baseball w/Mary!! :)

  2. “Sneak” into a wild card berth? Last I looked, they were a game and a half up on the closest teams and only a game and a half behind the Angels. Last I looked, they had the second-best run differential in MLB behind the A’s (which, when you compare their actual record with their Pythagorean, suggests that they’re actually underperforming). Last I looked, there were only six teams in MLB with a better record–granted that two of the six are in their division… They aren’t “sneaking” anywhere, they’re telling the rest of the league “catch us if you can.”

    • These writers just haven’t paid attention to the mariners this year because they write them off during spring training

  3. By at least this measure:
    http://www.fangraphs.com/coolstandings.aspx?type=1&lg=mlb
    Seattle is projected to finish with the 4th best record in MLB.
    Even the more pessimistic ‘preseason projections’ mode has them at 2 games better than the nearest competitor for the 2nd wildcard, or just about where they are now.
    Lots can (and will) happen over the next three months, but whichever way you slice it right now, the playoff spot is theirs to lose.

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  5. It’s understandable for these writers to not watch the M’s, hell even as a die hard fan it’s been tough watching them for the last 7 or 8 years. This team is completely unexpected, and is suprising as paying Cano was a last ditch effort for Jack Z to save his job. The problem is, it’s worked out for him. The owner of the M’s needs to be careful how much power he gives Jack Z at this point because his decision making is historically terrible, and he shouldn’t mess with the lineup too much. He should be more selective with his trades and not say “well, what do I have to do to make a trade,” which is virtually what he does every time. I wouldn’t be surprised if he trades Felix and Cano to the Yankees for three over-valued prospects who can’t contribute at the deadline. It’s what he does every year.

    • Name who these players are that Z has traded every year. You cannot, because of course he has not. Sorry Dude but that’s a crap accusation.

      • Have you heard of Doug Fister? I could easily stop at this atrocious trade, but I won’t.
        How about Pinada? Should have gotten more than a fat catcher who can’t catch for him. He was an all star as a rookie
        Remember Morrow? He has been an adequate starter and was given away for bullpen help.
        Cliff Lee? The worst part of that trade is the we had to have Smoak the last 4 years.

        • hmmm lets see here Fister yea sure I’ll give you that one, Pineda he’s made what 6 starts since that trade 2 years ago and spent all that time on the DL the Cliff Lee deal the M’s were out of contention, and he wasn’t going re-sign with the team and at the time everyone thought that Smoak was going to be the next Texeria. So your case your making isn’t working

          • I go one further. I think Fister would have left through free agency eventually. When he was here, all he did was complain about lack of run support. A good pitcher usually doesn’t want to be part of something that doesn’t make him look good.

          • Fister would have been under team control for, four more years. He wasn’t going anywhere.

          • That’s not true. Not everyone was sold on Smoak. In fact, there were scouts telling him not to take Smoak, but he went with his gut and took him. Z deserves blame and is solely responsible for making the wrong call there.

          • What about Michael Morse? He led the league in batting average in 2008 spring training, then got injured. JZ traded him to the Nationals for Ryan Langerhans. Morse then went on to hit .303 with 31 HRs in 2011, so what does JZ do? Trades away John Jaso, our best hitter from 2012 to bring Morse back. Morse gets hurt again, so what does JZ do? Trades him away again for nothing. Now he’s hitting .277 with 13 HRs and 61 RBI’s for Baltimore. Basically JZ has been way to short sighted with the guy and the result is that we’ve dealt with Morse’s slumps and traded him away for his hot streaks. Terrible management.

          • Yeah, but the scouts who were telling Z not to take Smoak were telling him to take Montero instead.

        • The point about Pinanda, is not what he has done since he was traded, it’s that you got nothing for him. The Yankees couldn’t wait to get rid of Montero. Pinada still has potential to be a stud if he can stay healthy. Montero is trash. Any good GM should have seen this when scouting him. My own eyes can see he couldn’t carth at the big league level.
          I’d like to add that Jack tried to trade Walker last year as well. In fact the deal was finished had Upton not rejected the deal.

          • I fully understand that Cliff Lee had to be traded. But the original post is that Jack makes bad deals. When Lee was traded, he was an absolute stud and every contending team wanted him. This seems like a recipe for acquiring a haul of talent. What do the M’s have to show for this?
            For all you Jack believers, what trade are you hanging your hat on?

      • Bill Bavasi put this team in the decade long cropper flush. Jack Z. has made some questionable moves, but in all likelihood JZ has an eye for talent but is a shrewd office man. He treats personnel like peasants and tries to take all the credit. Before the Seattle gig he was preparing to interview and had a high level assistant prepare a report with statistics and game references. The person who produced the report was supposed to joint Jack Z until he canned the guy just before the interview. Subsequently JZ took the portfolio and wound up with the Mariners job. JZ knows talent, he has no idea how to evaluate efficient performance.

        • Tony Blengino was a tool- he steered Jack onto figgins, and some other questionable moves yo bring up.

    • Jack Z will not trade Hernandez and Cano to the Yankees for 3 over-valued prospects. That’s ridiculous, not just because of the contracts that we have with Hernandez and Cano that would utterly destroy the team for a decade if we traded them, but also because that is undeniably the most lob-sided trade. If Jack Z was trying to save his job, he would not do something that insane. I think you’re over exaggerating a little too much.

      • Not only he won’t, but he couldn’t. Felix and Cano both have no trade clauses.

  6. No surprise to me at all this season. Question in the SP was always the #5 spot. And the addition of Rodney was probably worth 10-12 wins. I had them at 3rd in the division with 85-87 wins, just on the basis of Rodney. They lost almost 30 games in the late innings last year when the bullpen would implode. Games they led or were tied after 7. That wasn’t going to happen again, and just getting back half of those put them over 500.
    Cano signing brought the team some leadership and swagger.
    Rodney signing solidified the bullpen and enabled the team to win doing what they do best.
    Pitch and play defense.
    And the Bavasi era is now finally over. The guy destroyed the team. When Z took over they were worse than an expansion team.

  7. all “rookie elias” has done is come out of nowhere to win 7 games in the first half .. every bit as impressive of a story as chris young

    paxton may even be better than walker!

    • And Danny Hultzen, if he comes back from surgery, is probably better than both Walker and Paxton. Hultzen – a left hander that has posted E.R.A.s of 1.19, 1.80, , 2.05 in class A, AA and AAA. He has 14-8 minor league record with a combined ERA of 2.82 and has struck out 178 batter in under 160 innings.

      • good point John.. Hultzen was the most refined of the bunch and if he can come back and be half as good next year we’ve got some trade pieces. Given Jack Z’s trade record we should stay put this year and see what the current team can do unless we can get rid of a Nick Franklin and maybe some of our bullpen depth to get some production in left field .. still lean towards doing nothing this year and making changes in offseason. Let’s see if Ackley can get hot in 2nd half and Morrison continue to turn it on as he has.

        • Agreed, let’s give this team a chance to gel and see what we’ve got. Hart is rehabbing in AAA & hitting .308, Morrison is doing an adequate job at the plate. We’ve got the A’s in Seattle for 3 before the All Star break. Let’s go forward with what we have this season.
          Z should not be judging trades. Our LF Morse is hitting .271 with 13 HR’s playing for the Giants.

  8. There are two wild card spots — the Angels and Mariners presently have both of them. The Royals and the Yankees are starting to fall behind the Mariners.

  9. Just remember that at the start of the year, Robbie Canoe was ‘asking’ for another bat and well into the first third of the season, we are anemic AT BEST.. how many 1-0 and 2-1 games did we lose, including a 8 game losing streak? How about seeing our ‘closer’ botch a couple of early saves. No one, not even the #1 fans were all that taken.

    The last month has seen the real turnaround. I give it to two at the top of the lineup. Chavez and Jones have added the spark and Robbie is becoming a hitter for us. like he should be. No one under 200 now. Wow, we had 4 a month + ago.

    The starting line up is finally set and seems to be working well. Jones should lead-off, but how can you argue with the Manager right now.

    FYI: that run of 6 doubles or something… I thought it was a computer glitch.

    js

    • Ha-ha I agree. Jones should be the lead off hitter but it makes sense that McClendon hasn’t done that too much because it is a lot of pressure for a rookie (although he’s hitting like a veteran). The game today was awesome and back to back nights with 10+ runs is incredible. Our pitching has always been above average but this year has sparked. Our lineup is also becoming strong and I have to say, I love that people aren’t talking about the Mariners. I’d rather us be the underdogs that come out of nowhere.

  10. First, how nice it is to see “the buzz” that the Mariners are creating, at least with their own fans. Who cares about the National Media. Let them learn of us during the Post-Season! We have all waited an eternity to see just some competitive baseball out of our M’s that it is almost hard to believe it is finally happening. As for the naysayer, who was critical of Z, let’s remember who has helped build the current team, who has helped restock our farm system with phenomenal young talent, who has helped attract a fine manager in Lloyd, who in turn, has assembled a crack squad of coaches. The M’s have something that we have only seen in our Seahawks, of late, which is chemistry! They have that intangible mojo — they play for each other, as a team, and they are jelling at just the right time. Whether they can sustain a consistent winning tradition for the remainder of this season and beyond remains to be seen. But, I like the foundation — great pitching, solid defense, and timely, clutch hitting. For my money, they play Baseball the way it was meant to be played. And with Endy and Jones creating havoc at the top and Roby starting to catch fire, with Kyle Seager and Zunino, the bats are finally coming around. I agree with another writer. While it may be difficult to catch Oakland, one of those wild card spots is theirs to lose! Go M’s!!!

  11. Guys, getta give credits to M’s bats as well. Pitching is great, but what’s getting them to this record, bats have to be a major part of it. Seager is doing a great job and should get the credit to be an All-Star this year. Zunino is an excellent defensive catcher with good power. Batthing avg is not there yet, but he is leading AL cather in homers. James Jones is doing an excellent job at top of the order considering he was not really on the radar of M’s prospect list. Lo Mo is getting better offensively and doing a good job at 1st base. It’s probably time to trade Smoaks for some prospect or a solid backup piece for this year’s run. However, M’s is more on a momentum run rather than performing at a steady level. As the record shows, they are both winning and losing in streaks. They need to find their identity as a winning team and keep that going for the rest of the season. Riding on momentum could be dangerous in late Aug and Sept, not to mention Oct. M’s were absolutely hot and play every aspect of the game in excellence in 2001, which got them to tie a ML record of winning 116 games. Look what happened in the post season, they were just a good team that got them half way through the 2nd round. As life time fan of M’s, it’s definitely thrilled to see how they are playing today. Hope this is a start of a new era of being a contender again!

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  13. “will that be enough to get the team into a position to make some noise in the 2014 American League West? (The answer is: no.)”

    Not sure want you want to brag about a prediction and link to an article with a different, totally blown prediction in the first paragraph. But still, nice article.

  14. Ladies and gentlemen may I present…………..Nelson Cruz………anyone anyone?? go M’s