The Mariners are Real Contenders (I Take it Back, Mr. Dipoto)

Athletics Mariners Baseball

For the last 9 seasons or so, all the talk in Seattle has been around when the Mariners will (finally) get some offense to back up King Felix and the rest of the pitching staff. Although every conclusion that is drawn from a small sample size must be taken with a grain of salt, the early results are promising on Jerry Dipoto’s debut as General Manger in the Pacific Northwest. Not only does the team currently sit in first place in the AL West with a record of 29-21, but the Mariners actually have a good lineup these days.  

The team batting average, at .255, puts them right in the middle of the pack. So they aren’t getting a ton of hits, but they’re still scoring runs with the best of ‘em. The M’s currently rank 8th in runs scored (231), 8th in OPS (.758), and what I’m sure the fans love most: the team is tied for 2nd most home runs in the majors with 70.

Much of this offense can be attributed to pieces that were already in place before Dipoto showed up. Mainly, the middle of the order trio of Robinson Cano (15 HR, 44 RBI), Nelson Cruz (10 HR, 33 RBI), and Kyle Seager (9 HR, 29 RBI) are finding their groove. Seager started a little slow, but he’s been hot as of late. This type of production isn’t all that surprising, even if Cano’s hit a few more homers than you’d expect. Pleasant surprises from offseason acquisitions like CF Leonys Martin (9 HR) and Korean stud Dae-Ho Lee (7 HR) have taken this lineup from “decent” to “be careful.”

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Dae-Ho Lee’s walk-off HR

In fact, the only starters that have performed below expectations are Adam Lind (Trumbo’s replacement at 1B) and fellow newcomer OF Nori Aoki, but they’ve still got plenty of time to turn things around. There were a ton of new faces acquired after Jerry Dipoto was brought on board. As I’ve said before, Dipoto was taking a huge risk when he made the decision to essentially blow up the roster.

 

Of course, it’s not all about the home runs. If that were the case, Mark Trumbo would probably still be on the team. Rather than the low-contact/high power lineups that everyone is accustomed to seeing in Seattle, Dipoto has finally managed to construct a balanced lineup for the Mariners. Nori Aoki and Leonys Martin were brought in as contact/speed guys, Adam Lind is another contact-oriented player (career .273 BA, 18.9 K%), and Chris Iannetta is looking like a significant defensive upgrade over last year’s catching tandem of Mike Zunino and Jesus Montero.

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(From left to right) Adam Lind, Nori Aoki, Leonys Martin, Wade Miley, and Chris Iannetta, all acquired in the offseason

They’re not a perfect team, but they’re finally starting to score enough runs to support their pitching staff. With a team ERA of 3.37, the Mariners are ranked 4th in the entire Major Leagues, and 1st in the AL. Led by King Felix, the starting rotation has been solid. While Felix, Iwakuma & Co. are putting up decent numbers out of the rotation, it’s the bullpen that is owed a great deal of credit for the team’s success.

Collectively, Mariners relievers are combined for a 2.51 ERA, good for 3rd in the Majors. What’s even more impressive is that the bullpen has held opposing hitters to a microscopic batting average (Batting Average Against) of .193: 1st in all of baseball. The suddenly dominant bullpen can be much attributed to the contributions of Vidal Nuno, Mike Montgomery, and Steve Johnson, all of whom have an ERA of 1.55 or lower.

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Closer Steve Cishek (pictured)

With a pitching staff that ranks in the top 3, and an offensive unit placing in the top 10, it’s easy to see why the M’s are off to such a good start. Currently tied with the Rangers for 1st place in the AL west, the real question is whether or not the team can maintain this level of play. No, the Mariners are not the Phillies, if that’s what you thought I was implying. The Mariners actually have a positive run differential, and It’s starting to look like they are finally playing like contenders.

Luckily for M’s fans, Dipoto’s plan has worked masterfully, and I was totally incorrect in my preseason predictions. Back in December, I wrote a piece about the Mariners’ offseason, and how quickly the team’s roster was changing:

“There is one element that is essential to remolding, or changing the direction of a franchise that I feel Mr. Dipoto has completely ignored: a sense of timing.”

I compared the Mariners’ offseason to the White Sox and Padres during the 2014 offseason, pointing out how horrible those situations were. To top it off, I asserted that the team would have been better off tearing down, rebuilding, and trying to win on the strength of homegrown talent. After listing all the homegrown players the Giants and Royals had on their respective World Series rosters, I went on to make more bold assertions:

“These are values being taken for granted in Seattle, where Jerry Dipoto does not find this information relevant to his Mariners rebuild. Instead of taking the “traditional route” to rebuilding a team…Dipoto is taking the Mariners down the same path as the White Sox, Padres, and Marlins. According to history, the tactic of acquiring several players in one offseason has not been successful for teams.”

Wow. I was so incredibly wrong, and now I must admit it. As we approach the 1/3 mark on the season, I have to tip my hat to Jerry Dipoto and the rest of the Mariners Front Office. They seem to have successfully done what nearly every “overnight rebuilder” has failed to do. By my count, there are 9 players on the active team that also played for the M’s last year, meaning more than half the team was replaced in the offseason. It didn’t work for the White Sox, and it didn’t work for the Padres, but it’s definitely working in Sea-Town.

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