Mariners: One month in and counting

The beginning of the 2009 season for the Seattle Mariners has been tumultuous, to say the least. The team started April with a promising road trip during which they went 5-2, then played about .500 ball the rest of the way through the month. However, the month of May has not been kind to the Ms’. So far, they have gone 3-9, including six losses on the road.

Through April, the obvious strength of the team was the pitching, with Felix Hernandez, Erik Bedard, and Jarrod Washburn all pitching late into games and sporting earned run averages (ERA) below two.

While the bullpen, including an uneven Brandon Morrow, has been shaky at best, the starting pitching was keeping the team in games, even when the offense had trouble producing.

Felix went almost three starts without giving up an earned run, and Bedard was leading the league in strikeouts and was second in ERA through the end of April.

While the Mariners’ bats still seem to be sleeping for now, there are signs that the offense is beginning to come out of its coma. After starting the first month with a batting average hovering around .200 and having yet to hit a home run, Adrian Beltre has hit two in the past week, including one that put the Mariners within striking distance of a win.

Both Kenji Johjima, Franklin Guttierrez and Russell Branyan have looked strong behind the plate since coming back from injuries, and Jose Lopez has had a number of clutch hits in recent weeks. Endy Chavez did a fantastic job standing in for Ichiro while the latter was out for the first week of the season. While Chavez’ production has fallen off, he’s still a valuable hitter, batting a respectable .270 on the season.

Lately though, the wheels have begun to fall off for the vaunted pitching staff. Felix allowed a number of early runs in his last start, not making it through 5 innings.

Carlos Silva has been ejected from the starting rotation, replaced by Jason Vargas, a pitcher that hasn’t played in the big leagues since 2007.

Bedard has been scratched from his next start due to hamstring soreness, and Ryan Rowland Smith, the number 5 starter, has been on the DL for over a month, his spot filled in by a 31 year old reliever making his first tour through the big leagues.

Also, aside from the sputtering pitching, the defense has been surprisingly atrocious for a club whose front office built the team around defensive saber metrics. Seattle has 28 errors so far this season, which is the third most in baseball. While no one player has been an egregious liability on defense, many hardcore fans are pointing at Yuniesky Betancourt as the source of their woes, criticizing him for lack of range and making easy plays look difficult.

In the rest of the division, the Angels seem to have hit a hot streak, and much of their strong pitching staff is coming off of injury.

The Rangers are hitting as well as always, and seem to have found a couple of pitchers they can count on.

Fortunately for the Mariners, the Oakland Athletics have not been able to get things going on offense or on the mound, which means that the M’s will have at least one division foe they can beat on.

The season is still fairly young, and the Mariners are certainly still in the race, but the next few weeks will be critical if this team wants to make their first postseason run since 2001.

The Mariners need to win now if they want to win in October.