Split with Sox leaves M's one game back in AL West
Sam Haggerty has earned more playing time with a strong series in Boston
April 25, 2021
It was a disappointing series finale today, a 5-3 Mariner loss to the Boston Red Sox. Starting pitcher Nick Margevicius, in his first action since prematurely leaving last Sunday's start against Houston four pitches into the 5th inning due to an unexplained discomfort that prevented him from finishing his proper pitching motion, gave up two hits and walked four in just one-third of an inning to register the shortest start by a Mariner pitcher since July of 2019 (Matt Carasiti allowed five runs in 1⁄3 IP as an "opener," a fad that seems to have mercifully run its course). Though the bullpen did a solid job in keeping the Red Sox at bay afterward, the bats couldn't generate enough action to give the M's another comeback win against a tough Eduardo Rodríguez.
Still, the Mariners split the four-game series, giving them four series wins, one series loss, and two splits on the young season. Considering the splits were against division leaders LA and Boston and the loss against a would-be contender in the White Sox, that's not too shabby. We're just over three weeks into the campaign and Seattle has the 4th-best record in the American League despite a rather pathetic team batting average of just .215. The club is hanging in there on the strength of pitching—including astoundingly successful relief pitching—and defense, with help from just a few guys in the lineup.
It's not sustainable, of course. For the M's to keep winning at this pace the bats are going to have to warm up at least a little bit. Right now seven of the twelve active Mariner batters are carrying averages under the Mendoza Line and seven have on-base marks below .300. Offensively, Seattle features the Mitch and Ty Show with the occasional cameo appearance from Kyle, Sam, or J.P. The two guys at the top of the order are going to need more help as we go on, especially since the bullpen's performance cannot possibly stay this good.
Is there anything to be done aside from just keeping on keeping on and hope the rest of the guys find a hot streak? Well, maybe. The minor league season hasn't started yet, so reinforcements and roster moves are unlikely for a while. So we've got to make do with what we've got. My suggestions to manager Scott Servais—who infamously never, ever listens to me—would be these:
- Move Evan White down to 7th or 8th in the lineup. It's not that whoever gets moved up in his stead will be any better, it's that White is pressing in the middle of the order and he needs to ease up. His focus right now ought to be making contact and reading pitches, not holy-moly-I-have-to-drive-in-this-run. His bat has shown some signs of life here and there, but there's still too much swinging and missing for a guy who went through the minor leagues with a .361 OBP. Of course, almost none of that was at Triple-A, he was thrown into the deep end without any floaties last year and produced accordingly. Take the heat off the guy and let him adjust.
- Make Sam Haggerty the regular second baseman. This should have been the case right out of camp, but given what Dylan Moore did last year it was reasonable to go with him to start. Sam's the guy now, though.
- Maybe try Sam at leadoff. Nothing against Mitch Haniger, he's been terrific, but Haggerty-Haniger-France-Seager-Lewis-Torrens/Murphy-Trammell/Moore-White-Crawford might be something to try for a spell.
- This one is less for Servais than it is for general manager Jerry Dipoto: Can we look for a new hitting coach, please? I have no reason to think Tim Laker is anything but a stand-up guy with the best intentions, but what's he teaching the hitters? This is Laker's third year as Seattle's hitting coach—his first year, 2019, the M's were 14th in the AL in batting average, struck out nearly ten times per game, and barely cracked a .300 on-base percentage as a team. Last year they were 13th in average, again barely topped a .300 OPB, and K'd just over nine times per game. So far in ’21 it's more of the same. With so many current Mariners having little to no experience in Triple-A, it would seem that an effective hitting coach would be a key piece for the staff and the M's don't appear to have one. Is it coincidence that the two solid hitters Seattle has right now, France and Haniger, have the least history with Laker? Maybe so. But who is he helping? Look at the pitching side: Pete Woodworth is an excellent pitching coach and the whole staff is doing surprisingly well, even those who figured to have trouble. Perhaps that's an apples-to-oranges comparison, batting to pitching, but you'd think who is in those roles matters or there wouldn't be coaching staffs, right? It's not an area in which the Mariners have excelled since the Lou Piniella days; maybe with a veteran club you can get by without a good coaching staff, but with all these rookies and second-year guys it takes on real importance.
Meanwhile, the pitching is fun to watch, Margevicius meltdowns notwithstanding. Rafael Montero is still a nerve-wracking choice for ninth innings, but somehow or other even he's been getting it done. Since it's unlikely Servais will heed my advice, we'll just have to see how long the M's can ride this wave.