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Series win in SoCal

Having dropped six straight at home, the Mariners course-corrected on their just-concluded four-game series in Orange County, taking three of four from the LA Angels with a barrage of home-run power. This puts the M's back atop the American League West standings, believe it or not, as the Astros had some trouble with their vastly inferior Texan neighbors this weekend.

The Angels series was notable for a number of things—Yusei Kikuchi got his first Major League win despite pitching his worst game of the year so far; the Mariner bullpen blew a huge lead, surrendering eight runs to the Angels over the seventh and eighth innings of game one to remind us of their collective inexperience and unreliability; Marco Gonzales gritted through a game in which he did not have his best command and still went seven strong for a Quality Start; Dee Gordon not only notched his 1,000th career hit (and then some), he also orchestrated a little-league-style double play on an infield popup; Seattle bats scoffed at "elite" closer Cody Allen; and the homers. All those homers.

Flying Away

  Series  HRs  % of runs
on HR
  2 @ OAK  3/20-21  4 66.7 
  4 vs. BOS  3/28-31 11 50
  2 vs. LAA  4/1-2 2 37.5
  3 @ CWS  4/5-7 10 55.2
  4 @ KCR  4/8-11 9 34.4
  3 vs. HOU  4/12-14 3 33.3
  3 vs. CLE  4/15-17 3 66.7
  4 @ LAA  4/18-21 14 75
 
Total (25 games) 56 51.2

I am not one to trumpet an offense built on the home run. Objectively speaking, home runs are among the least interesting ways to score in a baseball game. The rally of continuous baserunners and pressure on the opposing pitcher and what-will-happen-next tension is more entertaining. But there's no arguing the fact that they get the job done if timed right and/or frequent enough, and the Mariners have made it their number one weapon, scoring over half their runs on longballs.

The M's clubbed 14 home runs in the series, accounting for 21 of their 28 runs scored and keeping up the record-setting pace for most homers by any Major League team to begin a season. It would be nice to see them find other ways to score, as being dependent on the home run can be detrimental, but for now, at least, aside maybe from Daniel Vogebach it doesn't seem like the team is relying on the longball so much as happily taking them when they come. Hell, Dee Gordon has two homers already, and you know he's not going up there thinking about hitting one out. Even Vogey is fine taking his walks to keep the line moving (and with his lack of speed I'm fine with him focusing on Vogelbombs).

The deeper we get into the season the more it seems like, yeah, these Mariners might actually be for real, the Cleveland series notwithstanding. The defense is still an issue, but it's improving, thanks to the valiant efforts of infield/first-base coach Perry Hill. Ryon Healy has been a prime project for Hill and Healy is clearly an able student. Edwin Encarnación, who's been primarily a DH the last few years, has turned in some nice plays at first, too. Tim Beckham still needs work at short, and out in left field it's a whole 'nother story with Domingo Santana—outside of Mark Trumbo, I'm hard-pressed to think of a Mariner left fielder who's inspired less confidence than Santana. Oh, the Russ Davis experiment in left, that was brutal. But Santana, it seems, is an everyday error machine in left, either with official E7s or clumsy bobbles/near-misses that don't result in runner advances but would if the runners in question were faster.

But we can live with Santana in left so long as he keeps driving in runs at the plate. That leaves us with the bullpen as a problem area (OK, Mallex Smith's slump is also troubling, but slumps come and go; he'll be all right). That 'pen is a train wreck and if—if—the M's want to contend this year the relief corps will need new personnel. Not necessarily Craig Kimbrel-level personnel, just won't-walk-in-runs, won't-throw-steady-meatballs personnel. Shawn Armstrong needs to get right in the minors before we see him take the hill for the M's again. R.J. Alaniz is not ready for the Majors. Zac Rosscup is potentially OK, but it'd be great if he could be kept to big-lead/deficit situations. Anthony Swarzak might be fine, but I'd rather not rely on him as a closer. Cory Gearrin seems to be righting his ship, Brandon Brennan has been great, and Connor Sadzeck has impressed; they deserve to keep on keeping on with the big club. And Roenis Elías can handle anything, but it's not like he can pitch every day. If the team were to add a reliable lefty and even an Adam Warren-level middle-inning option, leaving Elías for the toughest spots and/or ninth innings, it would go a long way to solidifying the M's as an actual competitive club.

Next up, Seattle's first taste of Interleague this year. Erik Swanson and Felix Hernández will get to swing the bats—or at least hold them—in San Diego against the surprising Padres before the M's come home to host the Rangers.

Mariners vs. Angels, by the numbers

  • Total runs scored: 54 (SEA 30, LAA 24)
  • Home runs hit: 22 (SEA 14, LAA 8)
  • Bases stolen: 4 (SEA 3, LAA 1)
  • Errors committed: 3 (Narváez, Beckham, Murphy)
  • Quality starts: 1 (Marco Gonzales)
  • Pitching changes: 30 (SEA 13, LAA 17)
  • Starters ERA: 6.64 (SEA 3.75, LAA 8.22)
  • Bullpen ERA: 6.82 (SEA 5.45, LAA 6.10)
  • Largest lead: 8 runs
  • Largest winning margin: 2 runs

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