State of the M's: April
Mitch Haniger connects for his 10th Home run of the year
Don't look now, but Your Seattle Mariners are a playoff team.
OK, not really—or rather, not yet—but as the month of April comes to a close, Seattle's 16-11 record leads the other AL teams in the race for a Wild Card berth. They're only 2½ games back of the Astros for the AL West lead, too, having passed the Angels in the standings during their just completed 7-3 road trip. Are they really this good?
Yes. And perhaps no.
The offense really is this good—the M's scored 60 runs over their 10-game trip through Dallas/Ft. Worth, Chicago, and Cleveland, and did not evidence the difficulties with moving runners along or racking up huge LOB numbers we saw in the previous road stretch. Mitch Haniger in particular had a great trip, batting .385 over the ten games, and the team as a whole posted a healthy .272 mark and hit 18 home runs. (And this in a stretch that included a 1-0 game.) Top to bottom, the lineup is congealing as a force to be reckoned with, and though some problem areas remain—Mike Zunino continues to strike out a third of the time, Ben Gamel and Ryon Healy are still working up to regular-season form, the bench hasn't had much opportunity to do anything—anyone stepping to the plate has a decent chance to contribute.
Things are less reliable on the mound, though. It still feels like a crapshoot no matter whose turn in the rotation it is. Yes, James Paxton is one of the best there is, but he's had a couple of difficult starts and has yet to get past the sixth inning; Felix Hernández, though still good, isn't his former dominant self; Mike Leake can generally be relied upon to keep you in the game, and Marco Gonzales has shown flashes of brilliance as he continues to develop on the job, but neither is a sure thing. And Erasmo Ramírez has been terrible in his two starts, serving up seven home runs already and plenty of other deep flies that just stayed in the yard; that fifth spot might have a new occupant (Ariel Miranda? Roenis Elias? Robert Whalen?) in another week or two. The bullpen has been mostly great, but both Nick Vincent and Dan Altavilla have had troubling outings and Marc Rzepczynski has just been bad all around. So far, closer Edwin Díaz has been pretty automatic, but we know from experience that he can lose his control and melt down, especially at home.
There is certainly the capacity for the pitching staff to be every bit as good as the lineup. While the road trip showed their weaknesses, it also showed their strengths, and barring injury (a dangerous statement, I know) this staff should be effective far more often than not. Marco Gonzales in particular is showing a lot of upside, and we all know what Pax can do when he's on. Shoring up the fifth spot and maybe cutting bait with Zep (the team carries too many relievers as it is, use that spot to bring Guillermo Heredia back up) would go a long way toward solidifying the mound corps.
This road swing included games against both good and bad teams, against both great and unknown pitchers, in good weather and bad. The Mariners did well in all circumstances. Now we just need to see them sustain it in front of the home crowd.