Surging Mariners Will Be a Formidable Opponent
The up and down yo-yo like way in which the Indians are making their way through the 2014 season is beginning to get old. Win five games… drop six. Rattle off nine wins in ten games… drop the next four out of five. And so it goes, with each and every positive step forward comes another painful, gut wrenching step back.
How much more of this can we take? An even better question is, how do they fix it?
For starters, they could stop playing the Tigers. That might help. As has been the case over the past handful of seasons, the Tigers have been to the Indians what kryptonite is to Superman, that being a giant pain in the ass that renders them useless. This past weekend’s three game sweep at the hands of the Tigers only further continued this trend.
After splitting a short two game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks, one of the worst teams in all of baseball thanks to an absolutely awful start to the season coupled with some terrible luck on the injury front, the Tribe now makes their way to Seattle to take on the Mariners. In past seasons, this would have been viewed as an opportunity to right the ship against a lesser opponent. But in 2014, that just isn’t the case.
The Mariners come into tonight’s game as one of the hotter teams in all of baseball. Winners in seven of their last ten games, the M’s have pulled themselves up over the .500 mark and positioned themselves to be in the AL Wild Card conversation. They are in a three-way tie for first with the Angels and Orioles. At 6.5 games back in the AL West, it’s tempting to say they might have a chance at the division crown for the first time in a long time. However, the first place A’s look like the best team in baseball. To win the division would require an almost epic collapse on Oakland’s part.
Leading the way in the Mariners’ resurgence is Felix Hernandez. As you are probably well aware of by this point, Hernandez is consistently in the conversation for the title of best pitcher in baseball. Depending on the day, the argument comes down to preference between him and Clayton Kershaw. In 2014, Hernandez is having another spectacular season. His 2.24 ERA is among the best in baseball, as are his 128 strikeouts. Quite simply, he’s a stud. Unfortunately for the Tribe, they will have the unfortunate task of facing Hernandez in the Series finale on Sunday afternoon.
In addition to Hernandez, the Mariners also have two other solid pitchers in their starting rotation. Japanese import Hisashi Iwakuma has established himself as a legitimate number two starter. He’s the type of pitcher you can send to the mound every five days and generally rely on the fact that he will give you six or seven quality innings. After Iwakuma is the youngster, Roenis Elias. He has seemingly come out of nowhere to establish himself as a valuable member of the Seattle rotation. It’s a good thing too since the heavily touted Taijuan Walker has yet to throw a pitch in the big leagues this season due to shoulder issues.
Offensively, the Mariners were relying on a huge season from the newly acquired Robinson Cano. While he has once again been spectacular with the bat, posting a slash line of .324/.384/.815. From that standpoint, Cano has been nothing short of spectacular. However, the one aspect of his game that has been lacking is power. With only four home runs, Cano is well off his career norm. He has hit 25 or more home runs in each of the last five seasons.
In addition to Cano, the Mariners are getting another solid season out of third baseman Kyle Seager. His 12 homers and 54 RBI lead the team. If they do find a way to make it into the postseason, his breakout will play a huge part in it. Besides Seager, former top catching prospect Mike Zunino has emerged as a solid hitter in the middle of the Mariners lineup. After struggling a bit to find himself early on, Zunino is stroking a sweet stick right now and beginning to come into his own.
Lastly, the Mariners appear to have found something at the top of their lineup with the speedy combination of Endy Chavez and James Jones. While their OBP numbers are not at the level you would typically like to see from your first and second hitters, they’re ability to place stress on the opposing defense thanks to their speed has paid off huge dividends. If they get on base they are going to keep on running until they score, something the Mariners are doing a lot more of lately.
So what does this all mean in the grand scheme of things? Well, it means that the Mariners have morphed from a perennial cellar dweller into a legitimate contender, at least heading into the all-star break. Whether that means that they can maintain this pace and make a legitimate run remains to be seen, but, for now, there is legitimate excitement in Seattle these days for everything the Mariners could become.
For the Indians, this will be a quality test. We have seen them struggle against teams in the upper echelon of baseball and teams riding hot streaks. The Mariners aren’t quite in the former category, but they definitely fall within the latter. If the Indians can put together three quality games and walk away with wins in two out of three games, then it will have been a successful trip to the “Emerald City”. However, if the Indians defensive misfortunes continue to pop up at inopportune times, it could be a long weekend.
Josh Tomlin (4-5, 4.39/3.58) vs, Roenis Elias (7-5, 3.74/3.84)
TBD vs. Felix Hernandez (9-2, 2.24/2.42)