Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Giddy? Up.

It merits comment that the M's have now won four straight and are five games over .500.


The big question, of course, is this: "is this for real?"

Well, the offense certainly seems to be. The Mariners are fifth in the AL in runs scored/game, roughly 8% better than the league average of 4.82. Kenji Johjima, Ichiro!, Jose Guillen, Adrian Beltre, and bench players Ben Broussard and Jamie Burke are all contributing to that pace, while Jose Lopez and Yuniesky Betancourt are not hurting the team. That's a solid offense, and this far into the season, it looks a lot more real than it might have in April.

Consequently, despite the collapse of Raul Ibanez and Big Sexy, and the futility that is Jose Vidro, Seattle's offense could genuinely expect to contend in a weak AL West.

Meanwhile, the pitching continues to be the question mark. This has been true...ever since we started this blog, and throughout Bill Bavasi's tenure. Seattle's pitching staff as a whole has allowed the fifth-most runs/game of any team in the AL. That's bad. Indeed, it's like the pitchers are giving back everything that the offense takes, leaving the team as a slightly above .500 ballclub. We've scored 287 runs while allowing only 273, so our 30-25 record is right about where we should be.

Whoa! So even if the slumping Sexson fails to recover; even if Rauuuuul can't defeat age or his mystery shoulder injury; even if our DH is Jose Vidro rather than a real MLB starter; and even if we keep throwing awful starters at least 60% of the time--even if all these things continue to be true--then this club looks like it should achieve a .500 record?! Or better???!

I'm astonished. I'll take back one or two of the mean things I've said thus far this season.

Before the season, I was convinced that the offseason insanity had positioned the Mariners to OWN last place, again. Happily, the Rangers suck, so that brought the discussion to third place, but still.

Next question: what can we achieve? Seattle stands 5.5 games behind the Angels, who sport the second-best pitching staff in the AL plus league-average run scoring. Can we hope to catch them, fend off the Rangers, and sneak into the playoffs in 2007? is rather pessimistic about the M's chances: despite the current standings, we are given only a 12.4% chance to take the division, while the A's have a 22.1% chance. This projection is based solely on the 2007 runs scored/allowed figures, simulated over millions of actual remainders of the season. This mechanical method of prediction cannot account for lineup changes, injuries, trades, hot streaks, etc., but it does suggest that there remains the fundamental problem with the team as a contender: our pitching rotation sucks (hey, I think we've mentioned that once or twice on the blog this year).

So to remain in contention, Bill Bavasi must come up with a better starting rotation. After the King (who's having his own difficulties, not least of which is the herd of Perfectly Normal Beasts continually running right through his domain) and the rejuvenated (juvenated?) Jarrod Washburn, we have diddly squat. The way they've performed so far, Batista/HoRam/BadWeaver/Baek/cast of thousands couldn't win in AAA.

There are two ways to improve the pitching staff. One is to get better pitchers to replace the horrible ones we have. (This involves trading, and Mr. Bavasi has shown little aptitude for that. Let's just not go there.) The other would be to magically transform some of our awful pitchers into major-league quality starters.

There is, ahhh, SOME hope that this second course of action might work. I mean, Batista's 5.43 ERA has to come down, right? His FIP is 4.46, right in line with his 2006 season, in which he posted a 4.58 ERA. He's not walking more, nor striking out less, batters than his recent seasonal rates suggest he should. He COULD be a real #3 starter for this team.

Now, the final two rotation slots are pretty much hopeless. You've all SEEN Ramirez and Weaver pitch. Baek and Feierabend are young and therefore we imagine that they have "upside," but these are not exactly staff saviors (yet) either.

So as giddy as I am about our exciting come-from-behind wins, our place in the standings, and the generally surprisingly good outcome through 5 June, I still harbor this lurking fear that the M's really don't stand much of a chance. Say the King and Batista both improve significantly. That leaves 40% of our remaining games to be started by AAA pitchers. Or Jeff Weaver. Ugh.

Aside from shifting to a 3-man starting rotation, I don't see how we can rest the full weight of our playoff hopes on the Teal and Northwest Green just yet.

Still, we're in a lot better position than I ever expected us to this season. Go M's!


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