Kate Preusser, Managing Editor of Lookout Landing, joins us to answer a few of my whimsical Mariners questions.
The man. The myth. The legend. Mitch Haniger is slashing .338/.442/.600...who gave him permission to be Mike Trout?
Of all the injuries that have sidetracked the M's season so far, there's a good chance there is none worse than Mitch Haniger's. He was the lone spot M's fans dreamed on, the promise of the future, during the dark days of early April, and looked to be a genuine contender against the assumed heir Benintendi for ROY. (It's also worth nothing that a super-cerebral dude who is concerned about climate change is of course going to be a folk hero in Seattle, land of eco-nerds. There was possibly no fanbase more equipped to absolutely love Mitch Haniger to pieces than Mariners fans.) We all thought Mitch would come down to earth, but now the rest of his season will be dogged by "but what if he didn't get injured" questions. Maybe that's a blessing in disguise. Sometimes it's best to turn your back on a sandcastle before the tide inevitably washes it away.
Another no name that has been pretty good is Taylor Motter. Is he the one super-UTIL player that can hit grand slams and star in Head & Shoulders commercials?
The big debate right now is "is Taylor Motter for real?" While it's true he's never shown this kind of power in his career, he's also never been exposed to the likes of Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager and Edgar Martinez on a daily basis before. He's been selectively hunting pitches on the inner half of the plate and that strategy has been paying off--even when pitchers try to go away he's been able to spoil the good pitches and lay off the bad ones. It'll be interesting to see how pitchers continue to adjust to him and whether he can continue to make adjustments, but he's definitely doing something he hasn't done before in his brief major league career. The sweet flow is just gravy--he's also a genuinely good teammate and cool guy. He even dressed up as the Easter Bunny for the players' kids Easter egg hunt.
The strengths of this ballclub were supposed to be its mashing position players, defense, and an above average bullpen. Is that prophecy coming true?
Well, not so much. The defense is for real, as is the base stealing. The position players are almost there--Kyle Seager is off to his traditional slow start and Cruz took a while to get going but they're both heating up--but the problem is we haven't had the full complement of them all being healthy. First it was Segura, now Haniger. Leonys Martin I consider being on the DL, in a way--he will get his swing right and return, and is already starting to make good contact at Tacoma, but he's a ways off too. Also, Mike Zunino has totally lost his power stroke, so the few homeruns we could usually count on from him mixed in with all his K's aren't happening. Add to that the mess at first base and the defense-first outfielders and things can get pretty ugly. Amazingly, the team has managed to hang in there offensively, only to see a bullpen that was once bursting with depth fall on its face a few times. Baseball! It loves to make people look silly.
Just like the Angels, the Mariners have had injury woes. Drew Smyly and Jean Segura first, now it's Haniger and Felix Hernandez on the DL as well. How much does that hurt and how good are the substitutes?
We got lucky with the Segura injury in that it wasn't so serious; I'm holding my breath on Haniger, which was reported as a Grade 2, because they really need him in that lineup. Smyly is hard to gauge because we haven't seen him pitch much for us yet, and I feel like the team could absorb either his loss or Felix's, but having both of them go down places a lot of stress on some very uneven pitchers (Miranda and Iwakuma) and necessitates an arm that isn't ready for prime time (either Overton, Heston, or De Jong). Add to that a few injuries with the bullpen in Cishek and Shae Simmons, who they were counting on to be a contributor but who seems to have totally dropped off the map, and it's a virtual smorgasbord of suck. Depth is great, but it's depth for a reason.
I take it that James Paxton is the brightest spot on this team, yes? An ace isn't a term to be thrown around loosely, but Paxton has earned every bit of that label. I'm sure he'll crush the Angels on Tuesday.
I hate to predict stuff like that because baseball loves to make fools of us, but Paxton has looked absolutely the part of an ace in all but one game this year. Ace is a term that I feel is thrown around sloppily--the Indians broadcasters called Salazar an ace the other day, which, really?--but it's one that Pax has earned in just a few games this season. He's a very mild-mannered dude but you can just see it in his face lately; he absolutely knows he's got unhittable stuff, and he's letting himself enjoy it a little. When Pax pounds his glove after a strikeout it's the equivalent of Cespedes flipping a bat to the moon.
I hate to be that guy bringing up standings before June, but the Mariners aren't looking so hot right now. If they stay a few games under .500 as they are now until the deadline, that would make it difficult on a front office that knows there is a window of contention hanging in the balance. What's the percentage that the Mariners will be buyers at the deadline, and the percentage of them being sellers?
It depends on May. The Mariners have to bounce back this month, which they have a good chance of doing if they can take some series from Texas and Toronto, both of whom have struggled, and dominate their interleagues against Philadelphia and Colorado (who are a good team but our bats should beat out their pitching). The Nats and the Red Sox series are going to be extremely difficult, so they have to take care of business against their AL West opponents this month, or they will find themselves even deeper in the cellar and staring at some very uncomfortable decisions at the trade deadline.
As always, much thanks to Kate for providing us insight on the Mariners.