On April 4, the Seattle Mariners opened their 2016 season with a three game series against the Rangers in Texas. Coming into the season, the Mariners had gathered a solid 16-14 record in spring training, which placed them in sixth in the Cactus League. During this time some of the Mariners were able to put up pretty good statistics. Second baseman Robinson Cano hit seven home runs and drove in 17 runs with a batting average of 0.368. Outfielders Franklin Gutierrez and Nelson Cruz both put up four of their own. On the pitching side of things, Donn Roach, a second year player recently acquired from the Chicago Cubs, put up an impressive ERA of 0.96 over his 18 innings pitched, allowing just two runs during that time.
Despite a seemingly average spring training this year, the Mariners look to be covering a major weakness they’ve had over the last few years – run support. It’s no surprise that Felix Hernandez and company always have held strong pitching fronts for the majority of their games, but for some reason they lost anyways. Combined with a merely mediocre, if not slightly disappointing relief pitching squad, the lack of run support has led to a lot of unsatisfying Mariner games, with scores like 0-2 and 1-3. In spring training, it is apparent even in losses that the runs are coming in. They scored seven in a loss against the Los Angeles Angels on the sixth of March, eight against the Diamondbacks on the seventh, 11 against the Athletics on the seventeenth, and 12 against the Athletics on the twenty-third. In fact, the Mariners seem to be scoring more runs during their losses than during their wins. Fast forwarding into the regular season, the numbers still look relatively high.
They scored two in a loss against the Rangers followed by 10 and nine in the following games, giving them a 2-1 record.
With a large improvement in the amount of runs scored but the same average win/loss record, it begs the question of whether or not their pitching has decayed. In game one, Hernandez took home a loss, despite holding the Rangers to three hits and one earned run that game. It was errors by shortstop Katel Marte and third baseman Kyle Seager that allowed Texas to win the game. In game two, both of the runs earned in the 10-2 Seattle win were given up by Hisashi Iwakuma in his five innings pitched. Wade Miley struggled in his first outing on the mound, allowing five runs in six innings before being taken out of the game. It wasn’t until the top of the ninth inning that the Mariners were able to put together five more runs to win the game 9-5, giving relief pitcher Joaquin Benoit the win. Despite the rough first outing by Miley, the overall Mariner ERA in their first game came to a strong 2.66 repeated.
By the looks of things, with increased run support from the Mariners and a surprisingly strong performance by Seattle’s relief pitchers, it’s up to the rest of the Mariners’ pitching staff to make sure they can continue shutting down batters so that Cano and company can keep piling up runs. Cano has four home runs already through the first three games with five others each hitting one of their own. The batting averages of the starting roster has currently averaged out at .353, which is highly impressive considering their tendencies to fail to get on base in recent years. In short, the Mariners seemed to have set themselves up with a recipe for success. The only remaining issue I can see is a shortstop weakness. Considering how athletic and calculated a shortstop needs to be, it’s disappointing to see that Marte has not done much to solidify the role. He’s currently batting a measly .231 average, and is responsible for two of the three errors that Seattle has achieved so far. Shortstops have continuously been an issue over the last years for the Mariners. The last decent one was Brendan Ryan who played off and on from 2010 to 2013, and even he was a nightmare at the plate. However, he had an unmatched fielding presence and was in the runnings for the gold glove award at his position for a while. If Marte steps up or if Seattle secures a good replacement, then the Mariners are in for success this year.