Tagged: Nelson Cruz

Who follows Nori Aoki in Seattle Mariner 2016 lineup

At the moment Nori Aoki will bat leadoff and play left field. Both Jerry Dipoto, Mariner’s GM, and Scott Servais, M’s manager, have pretty much given him that job. That will be against right handed pitchers as Aoki bats left. The number two hitter could be Ketel Marte, but a 2-3-4 of Seager-Cano-and Cruz might be better at the beginning of the season. Marte impressed in his call-up last season, hitting .283 in  57 games, but the two slot puts a lot of pressure on a 22-year old to get on base for the big bats. And seasoned hitters batting 2-3-4 should create more offense.

Adam Lind at first will bat fifth giving a L-L-L-R-L in the first five batters. The sixth slot is likely Seth Smith, another left handed bat, and he would be in right if Cruz is at DH or the DH with Cruz in right.

That leaves catcher Chris Iannetta in the seventh slot with every Mariner fan hoping he will hit better than his .188 showing for the Angels in 2015.  He bats right, but the only other catcher is backup Steve Clevenger who bats left, but he is also in the mix as a back up at first and occasional DH. Dipoto and Servais want Zunino to begin in Tacoma, but you never know. He has trouble with major league pitching, not much trouble in AAA, so even if he starts well in Tacoma, that is no guarantee he will hit in Seattle. 

The eighth and ninth slots are likely to be Marte and Leonys Martin. Both are speedsters and base stealers and have potential for creating RBI opportunities for Aoki and Seager.

The lineup against a southpaw pitcher is harder to figure. Franklin Gutierrez and Jesus Montero-if they like his defense at first- should see playing time, meaning Aoki and Lind would sit. In that case they might bat Marte leadoff, a switch hitter, to give him the opportunity to hit higher in the lineup and depending on how he does, ease him into the second slot as the season progresses.  Gutierrez in the second spot? could be. Then Cano and Cruz which would give you R-R-then L-Cano-R-Cruz, then Seager fifth from the left side. Montero sixth at first, Iannetta or Clevenger seventh, perhaps Chris Taylor as DH if makes the team and Martin ninth.

Dipoto has said there are only three spots open on the team. One is the utility player, the second is the backup first baseman, and the other is in the bullpen. The lineup looks better than the 2015 version, but then everything looks good on paper, or on the Internet.

Signs the Mariners will not make the playoffs

Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said after 50 games he would know what kind of team he had. They have played 51 and are three games below .500 and twice of late have failed to rise above that mark. They are not a playoff team at present and most likely will not be. Even with over 100 games to play there is no sign they will get better.

In 2014 the M’s hit .244 next to last in the American League. After 51 games they are hitting .236 and only the Brewers .227 average is worse. Their .297 on base percentage is 28th in baseball. On the positive side they are slugging at a .396 clip, 16th in baseball. But since they are 28th in runs it means most of the home runs are solo blasts.

They are also 5th in baseball in batters striking out. That means not putting the ball in play; at least fly balls and ground balls have the chance to advance runners. Mike Zunino is striking out at a 42% clip. He is batting .183 and while I would loved to see him begin to hit, no team can carry a catcher, no matter how good is defense, if he is an offensive liability. An occasional home run does not help. Hitting below .200 for two consecutive seasons will bring into question of what to do with him in 2016.

Currently the Mariners have three hitters above .500. Nelson Cruz .333, Kyle Seager .277, and Seth Smith .262. Robinson Cano keeps swinging at balls out of the zone is batting an un-Cano .246. Dustin Ackley can catch the ball, can not throw it home, and is hitting .185.

Ackley and Zunino are the new Justin Smoak. Whenever Smoak got on one of his rare one week hitting binges, Mariner broadcaster Mike Blowers and others would bring out the old line, “it looks like he has it figured out now.” Of course Justin would go into a hitting funk lasting a month, then another brief fling of hitting brought out the tiresome cliché. When the 2015  season started and Ackley was hot, the cliché came out again, “it looks like Dustin has it figured out.” Wrong! When ever Zunino has a two hit game, we hear it again. Enough already. Neither has it figured out-as yet.

When the season started the Mariners wanted either Brad Miller or Chris Taylor to take the shortstop job. Neither has. Taylor, now in Tacoma, couldn’t hit, and Miller’s throws to first are not unlike a Fernando Rodney experience. And now Miller is not hitting.

Last season the Mariners got by with the best pitching in baseball, but that is not the case this year. Iwakuma is disabled and it is questionable whether he will return to his former self. James Paxton on the DL with a finger strain weakens  the starting five and the bullpen has been inconsistent. Danny Farquhar, now in Tacoma is being stretched out to become a starting pitcher. It is a fail safe move in case Mike Montgomery, starting tonight against the Yankees, is not the answer with Paxton gone. So much for Mariner depth, the illusion of spring. The bullpen has been charged with 13 of the 27 losses.

The truth is there are no signs this is a playoff team. A weak hitting catcher, no shortstop, no left fielder, lack of hitting, too many players striking out, no depth in starting pitching,  and an inconsistent bullpen are not signs of a playoff team. Wait till next year.

 

 

Why preseason predictions on Mariners were wrong

In my post of April 16th I said there were two things wrong with the Mariners, one of which was their poor on base percentage. That was after nine games. They have now played 25 and that has not changed. They are hitting .238, 12th in the American League and their on base percentage is .292, ahead of only the Angels of Disneyland.

It does not matter how many home runs Nelson Cruz hits as solo homers aren’t as good as three-run shots. Austin Jackson who twisted his ankle Sunday has  an on base percentage of .294, not what you want from a batter ahead of Cano and Cruz in the lineup. The M’s need a rally starter and Jackson is not the guy. Ruggiano has a .344 OBP and Seth Smith is .333. After that it drops to .308 from Richie Weeks and Brad Miller’s .301. The first three names are the new guys in town.

As bad as the M’s lack of hitting and OBP is, the pitching has gone sour. Their 4.35 ERA is 11th in the league. It took a hit in Houston when the M’s came in trailing by 4 games, got swept, and gave up 11 homers in four games. I think it was 11, though it felt like 20. Now they are 8 games out.

The problem with pre season predictions is that when you listen to the experts before the season they look at what was added and figure, as in the Mariner’s case, that they would improve with the additions of Cruz, Weeks, Smith, Ruggiano, and Happ. On paper that makes sense, but what everyone forgets is that what players did last season, how a team played last season, does not carry over to the next year.

The starting pitching may not be as good, as in the Mariners case. Two young pitchers James Paxton, and especially Taijuan Walker have struggled; Iwakuma has back problems. The bullpen has not been as untouchable as 2014. One can not expect the same numbers every year.

The exception is the OBP of the Mariners. At least that has been consistently bad.

The M’s must improve this month to keep close to the streaking Astros. If they keep falling, then June will see Seattle fans talking Seahawks.

Why McClendon should not have used Rodney on Sunday

Many relief pitchers have a problem coming into the 9th in non-save situation. It is likely that thinking the lead is safe the pitcher throws strikes to get outs, but the strikes are too good and hits come, not outs; or the pitcher is relaxed and throws balls just out of the strike zone. It is only a surmise; the truth is a mystery.

But that is not the problem Sunday when Fernando Rodney came into the 9th with a 7-3 lead on Oakland. Lets look at the last of the 9th. Reddick a leadoff double, Semien a walk, then Sam Fuld 2-run double, 7-5. Canha infield single, Zobrist walks. McClendon visits mound and then Butler hits into double play, a run scores, 7-6, but two outs. The last out is the toughest and Sogard singles, Canha scores, 7-7.

Here is the problem. Rodney had pitched Saturday night so he was not in need of work and by bringing him in on Sunday throwing 25 pitches in a non save situation, it is unlikely he will be used for the Monday game against the Dodgers. Would it not have been better to start Medina in the 9th and if he gets into trouble, then bring in Rodney?

Managers tend to go with their closer and rarely take him out when he is not pitching well. The manager will, like the captain of the Titanic, go down with the ship, and the closer is the managers ship. That is why Rodney was allowed to either get out of the jam or lose the game. But if he lost, this would be one of those games you look back on and say this game was one that got away. And the M’s missed the playoffs by one game in 2014. Even early in the season you don’t want to let games slip away.

Nelson Cruz bailed the M’s out with a 10th inning homer and medina pitched a 1-2-3 9th for the save. Rodney got an undeserved win.

Closers are best in save situations.

 

 

Mariners to platoon two second basemen in left field

 

I heard on ESPN 710 Seattle the other day that Richie Weeks and Dustin Ackley will platoon in left. Ackley, the Mariners former second baseman,  learned to play left field after being sent to minors to straighten out his hitting. Last season he played left and this season he will be joined by fellow second baseman Richie Weeks, if that report turns out to be true. And Weeks is listed 2nd on left field depth chart.

That would give Seattle five outfielders, Ackley, Weeks, Austin Jackson, Justin Ruggiano, and Seth Smith. Since Nelson Cruz may get time in the outfield if needed, that leaves speedy James Jones with little chance of making the team and likely ending up in Tacoma.

It has also been said that the whoever losses the shortstop competition between Chris Taylor and Brad Miller will end up in Tacoma with Willie Bloomquist as the utility player.

Since the Mariners are likely to have 12 pitchers because manager Lloyd McClendon does not care about complete games that leaves 13 position players. With the five outfielders listed above, plus DH Cruz and two catchers, that leaves five infielders; Logan Morrison, Robinson Cano, one shortstop from the above mentioned competition, Kyle Seager and Willie Bloomquist as Mr. Utility.

If all that has been said is true it appears the Mariners have their position players already set. The team has flexibility with  interchangeable parts in the outfield depending on whether they are facing a left or right handed pitcher. And while the infield will be set, Cruz will get an occasional day at first or in one of the corner spots. Bench players will be a non-description of the 2015 Mariners as all will be seeing action on a regular basis, though Bloomquist could get lonely with Cano, and Seager being everyday players. Willie will get playing time at short, at first, and can play the outfield if needed.

And even with Jesus Montero having lost 40 pounds he may be in Tacoma along with other quality players. Tacoma could win the PCL with the Mariners having a strong roster. And we haven’t even talked about what pitchers will be down the I-5 freeway.

If you keep score at Mariner games, bring a pencil rather than a pen. You may need it as the scorecard will no doubt fill up on many days.

 

How many home runs will Nelson Cruz hit in 2015

Nelson Cruz had his best year at age 33, hitting .271 with career highs in home runs with 40 and in RBI’s with 108, the only year he hit over 100. But how will he do with Seattle? How many home runs is he likely to get?

In 2014 he played for Baltimore. The Oriole park at Camden yards averaged 2.16 home runs per game, third highest in the American League, behind the Rogers Centre in Toronto (#1) and Yankee Stadium (#2). From 2009-2013 with Texas Cruz hit 33, 22, 29, 24, and 27. The League average in 2014 for home runs at any park was 1.78 and the ballpark in Arlington averaged 1.64, so it was below the league average.

Can one expect Cruz to repeat 40 homers playing in Safeco? Safeco gave up 1.73, very close to the league average and better than Arlington. Texas had a bad year and the loss of Cruz certainly factors in their number. Last season there were six American league parks that averaged fewer homers than Seattle’s Safeco Field. So it is time to get off the fallacy that Safeco is not helping hitters. It is neutral and fair if anything.

Baseball is a game of numbers and numbers are fun, but they do not predict the future, they only tell you what happened in the past. Using numbers to project how many home runs Cruz will hit is a fool’s errand. I offer numbers to show his history and how many home runs are hit in parks during the previous season. Their are many factors that come into play in how Cruz will do and that centers on, not only his health, but those in the batting order around him.

It is likely Cruz will bat fourth behind Robinson Cano. I believe Seager batting 5th, someone who can hit 25 or more home runs would be a good bet for the fifth slot. Cano-Cruz-Seager is a powerful 3-4-5 middle of the order. But the key is who bats 1 and 2. Austin Jackson has batted leadoff and most likely will again. Will Dustin Ackley bat second? Or will it be one of the Ruggiano and Smith platoon? That will be of interest to see how that works out.

So how many will Cruz hit? I will say 30. It’s not based the numbers, just my own gut feelings. After all numbers are for the past.

 

What’s wrong with Seattle Mariner promotions

Many fans buy advance tickets based on Mariner promotions, most of which target kids. Little League day, run around the bases Sunday’s, and so on. Here is a list of promotions for the upcoming season. See if you can tell what is missing.

Bobbleheads are popular. My friend had his Felix bobblehead stolen from under his seat two years ago. He thought a father may have stolen it for his son. I told him it probably sold on E-bay, a notion he agreed was more probable. I often pray to Satan to take the thief’s soul to the dark world. No not Hades, but Oakland. Anyway there will be another Felix bobblehead night on April 18th. Other bobbles will be May 9th for Fernando Rodney; June 2nd for Kyle Seager; July 11th is Nelson Cruz; August 8th for Jaime Moyer who will be inducted into the Mariner Hall of Fame; and August 22nd for Robinson Cano.

Once again there will be a beard night. This year it is April 17th. I will pass on this one, thank you very much; but I want to be there for Kuma bear hat night. Hisashi Iwakuma’s nickname is ‘kuma’ which in Japanese is bear. The hat looks cool. I won’t show you one because I don’t want you to get excited and get there before me.

Nelson Cruz gets a second promotion, that being bat night for kids 14 and under May 30th. No word on whether the bats are laced with steroids, HGH, or any similar banned substance. I will pass on this one.

I do like Mariner fedora hat night May 15th. It will give me an alternative to the Kuma bear hat for when I go clubbing.

The Mariners will have their traditional family nights, senior specials, military specials, college nights, and King Court games. They will have four fireworks nights, May 29th Cleveland; June 19th Houston; July 24th Toronto; and August 21st Chicago. Those games will also have a theme. I Love the 90’s-Cleveland (I assume they mean 1990’s, not 1890’s); Star Wars-Houston; Sing Along-Toronto; and Songs of Summer-Chicago.

I noticed their are no ladies nights. Years ago teams had ladies day-or nights-when women had special discounted ticket prices, they even had doubleheaders for the ladies. But the Mariners have no special promotions directly targeting women. Big mistake. Nor do they have special days targeting seniors. Yes I know there are days discounted for seniors, but no promotions for men 60 and over. Why not a lap dance for senior men given by the Sea Gals. That would get sell-out crowds.

I guess I will settle for the fedora and Kuma hat.