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.
Shortly after the 2014 season ended there were rumors Michael Saunders was on the trading block. Since the Seattle media seemed surprised, it follows that the Mariners leaked the information. The rumors were strong that Seattle, for some reason, was unhappy with him. Injury prone it was said, and often. However in 2012 Saunders had 509 at bats, hitting .247 with 19 homers, 57 RBI’s. in 2013 he had 406 at bats, hit .236 with 12 homers, and 46 RBI’s.
The numbers say that when he was healthy, he was not productive; that when he was injured, it was promise unfulfilled. But Seattle was going to trade him and now he has returned to his home country of Canada where he will get an opportunity for an everyday job with Toronto.
In return the Mariners received J.A. Happ, a left handed pitcher. He had a great 2009 for the Phillies, pitching in 35 games, 23 starts, winning 12, losing 4, with 2 shutouts and an ERA of 2.93.
But his promise went the way of Saunders. For his career, Happ, has pitched for three teams, Philadelphia, Houston, and Toronto with a 51-53 record and 4.24 ERA. He strikes out 7.6 per 9 innings and walks 3.8. Happ is 32 and signed through the 2015 season.
What does this mean for Seattle?
Seattle’s rotation begins with King Felix and Hisashi Iwakuma. After that the Mariners can choose from James Paxton, Taijuan Walker, Roenis Elias, Happ, or Erasmo Ramirez. Happ should take spot of the second left-handed starter with Chris Young gone, though as a free agent, Young could still be signed by Seattle.
There are rumors that Walker will be traded, something the Seattle media has been talking about as long as the rumors about Saunders, probably longer. I suspect another Mariner leak, and that means Walker, like Saunders, will be traded. But for who is the question. I would not be surprised at a multi player trade with Walker, a reliever, one of their two shortstops, Chris Taylor or Brad Miller, and perhaps a minor league player with Seattle getting two or three in return.
Even with Nelson Cruz aboard the Good Ship Mariner, along with J.A. Happ, the Mariners are not done looking for new crew members. Ones that could take them into the playoffs.
It is not officially over, but it is only a matter of a couple of days before the bell tolls on the Mariners post season shot. The Good Ship Mariner crashed in Toronto’s Rogers Centre in two very unlikely games.
Felix Hernandez had his worst outing of the season, a very unlikely Felix performance, going 4.2 innings, 7 hits, 3 walks, and 8 runs. It came the night after James Paxton had the worst outing of his career, pitching just 2.2 innings, 7 hits, 6 walks, 9 runs, 8 of which were earned. In fact the best pitching staff in the game has allowed 42 runs in the last four games. They are no longer the best, for to be the best you must win when it counts and the Mariners pitchers, both starters and relievers, have failed to do that.
After beating Houston at home on September 8th to go 15 games over .500 at 79-64, the Mariners have gone 4-10. They still have five to play, but they show no signs of getting things turned around.
Manger Lloyd McClendon suggested Paxton’s poor, make that miserable, outing was because the Canadian was pitching in his native country for the first time. He felt the stress of pitching in a wild card race along with the stress of pitching before his fellow countrymen affected his concentration.
But what about the veteran King Felix?
Mariner broadcaster Mike Blowers suggested that after the home run to tie the game 2-2, that Felix, knowing how hard it has been for the Mariners to score runs, tried to be too cautious and lost aggressiveness.
There will be many theories, including the familiar “Same old Mariners” or they choked, folding under the pressure, or just pick out the usual cliché. The players will deny it. But what I have noticed is that when spring training rolls around they will be more honest about this collapse.
The good news is that even if they lose their last five games they will finish above .500. Nobody predicted in March they would finish above .500. But I still think the M’s have one or two wins in them before the Good Ship Mariner undergoes an autopsy.
The Mariners have seven games left to win a wild card spot and are 1.5 behind Kansas City and 2 behind Oakland. Still time, but the numbers indicate Seattle in a September slump with no signs of a reversal.
In the month of September Oakland is 7-12, but have an ERA of 3.08. Kansas City is 10-9 with a 3.27. The Mariners who had strong pitching all season, the best in baseball, are 10-10 with an ERA of 3.81. The M’s high ERA is attributed to the following pitchers, Hisashi Iwakuma 9.35; Yoervis Medina 9.00; Chris Young 8.59; and Fernando Rodney 5.63. Between them they have a 1-8 record. The way the rotation is set up Iwakuma, Paxton, and King Felix are slated to pitch at home against the Angels in the last series of the season.
If the Mariners are to make any headway they must win three of four in Toronto. Paxton, Felix, Walker, and Young will start.
But there is more than Pitching that is troublesome for the Mariners as their hitting is also in a slump. Kansas City is hitting .252; Seattle .221; and Oakland .220. The culprits this month for Seattle are Dustin Ackley .116; Chris Denorfia .148; Kendrys Morales .169; Chris Taylor .185; and. . . I could go on, but lets us say that Logan Morrison is batting .320 Robinson Cano .293; Endy Chavez .292 then it drops to .268 for Brad Miller and .264 for Kyle Seager.
Oakland, though 7-12 in the month, leads Seattle by two games with seven to play. Seattle plays better on the road, but are 3-4 after playing at Los Angeles and Houston. Kansas City is playing the best of the three wild card contenders and they travel to Cleveland to play four, one a suspended game, and the Indians are only 3.5 behind the Royals for a wild card so they have incentive to win. Oakland hosts Los Angeles and Mariner fans will be rooting for the Angels, which might be a first.
That is why Seattle needs to win 3 of 4 against Toronto. It is a good time to make a strong showing with Oakland in a slump, battling Los Angeles; and with Kansas City playing a Cleveland, a team eager to get in the race.
After winning two of three from bitter rival Oakland at the Safe, the Mariners are 10-5 in their last fifteen games, having won four series and splitting two games with Pittsburgh. Despite being hot, they are treading the cold, choppy waters of Elliot Bay.
They got within two games of .500 when they beat Toronto 8-1, May 4th, but lost the next two games before beating Pittsburgh 2-1 on May 8th. After beating Oakland Friday night they once again were within two games of .500, but lost Saturday. With Sundays win they are 18-20, again two games within playing .500 baseball.
It will be hard to get to that magic mark as they head out on the road for the roughest stretch of May. Beginning Tuesday the Mariners have three games in New York, then to Cleveland for four games, then to Disneyland for two with the Angels, and playing those 9 games without a day off.
It is the case of taking two steps forward and one step back. While they have been hot, improving from 8-15 to 18-20, they must become road warriors during this nine game stretch. Winning five would be nice, four acceptable. Winning less than four would put them, at the least, four games below .500 heading into a three game series with Texas at the Safe. It is not a make or break season with this stretch of nine games, but it could be for attendance which has picked up with the Oakland series.
If Seattle struggles on the road, then drops two of three to Texas, or worse, get swept, fans may give up the ship once again. Mariner fans, what few are left, live on hope the way Christians live for an afterlife; this team, like life, is okay, but the future will be better. I am sure the front office is hoping the hot streak will continue as they live, not on the future, but the present, the key work being green backs. We shall see how many fans are still on board after the Texas series. The Mariners ordered lots of hot dogs and beer for the summer.
Back in the day, the day before even my day, there was a favorite saying for the Boston Braves. It was “Spahn and Sain and two days of rain.” The catchy rhyme was meant to indicate the Braves had two starting pitchers who could win, the other two starters being unreliable. If there were two days of rain, Spahn and Sain could pitch again.
The Mariners have two starters that can be relied on. Hernandez and Iwakuma and three . . . does anything rhyme with Iwakuma? How about Felix and Hisashi and three. . . no, nothing working here. Names have gotten more complicated, less poetic.
But the point is that the Mariners other three starters are troublesome. Joe Saunders is Jekyll and Hyde. His career at Safeco is 8-0 with a 1.75 ERA in 12 starts. On the road he is awful. In Toronto, before he was yanked, he did not have one swinging strike. When the Jays swung they hit the ball, and hit it hard. But he must pitch on the road this month because that is where the Mariners will be spending most of their time.
Brandon Maurer is a rookie, has shown good stretches and bad stretches. He is in a learning process, making adjustments on the fly. He has pitched well enough to put up with his bad moments. The fifth starter, Aaron Harang had three starts where he looked like an A-Ball pitcher, but was solid in his last outing. Perhaps he is rounding into form, but don’t expect much from the number five starter.
If a change is made anywhere, and at the moment it is unlikely, Hector Noesi, the long man in the bullpen is the likely starter. Jeremy Bonderman, a veteran pitcher now in Tacoma is not that much different than Harang. Jimmy Paxton, one of the Big Four young guns, is 2-2 with a plus five era. Taijuan Walker in Jackson is still too young. Danny Hultzen, who was 3-1 with a sub two era is on the DL and needs time to rehab once he is healthy.
One name to watch is a pitcher recently moved up from Jackson to Tacoma. James Gillheeney, a 25 year old lefty who in four starts at Jackson was 2-0 1.21, then promoted to Tacoma is 2-0, 2.84 and in 35 innings has yet to give up a home run. The question is, because his record since 2009 when he was drafted in the 8th round out of North Carolina State, is less than stellar. He pitched well after his promotion to Jackson in 2012. So the M’s will watch him to see if he has it figured out.
But for now, it is Hernandez, Iwakuma and . . .
If I have the months right for the Sinatra song, it is “Riding high in April, shot down in May.”
The Mariners were not riding high in April, not with a 12-17 record, but they definitely could be “shot down in May,” as they spend most of the month on the road, with one stretch being particularly brutal.
The Mariners have five of May’s thirty-one days off. They spend 17 games on the road, with only 9 home games. Two thirds of the month they will be out of town, but since fewer and fewer baseball fans are going to Safeco, not many will know they are gone, nor miss them anyway. If they have a bad road month, June may have even more empty seats.
The Mariners must have ticked off someone in the MLB executive offices. Consider this: Friday the 3rd though Sunday they are in Toronto, they take Monday off, play in Pittsburgh two days, fly back to Seattle for three games with Oakland, then fly back to New York for three, before going to Cleveland for three, then Anaheim at Los Angeles in Disneyland-or whatever they call themselves-for two.
The second game in Pittsburgh is a day game on the 8th, Seattle will fly home, then five days later fly back to the East Coast. And this is in the middle of a stretch where they play 14 of 17 on the road with two trips east. That is brutal. My guess is that all the players will be getting a few days off here and there.
When they come back from that awful stretch, they have three home games with the Texas Rangers. Thanks Mr. Schedule maker.
Every team can make some complaint about their schedule, but Seattle, being close to the North Pole, just a few sled runs from Santa’s workshop, always end up flying more miles than ant team in baseball. But to make two east coast trips with in five days of each other is cruel. It is a schedule made by a bully, someone with a grudge against Seattle. And here I thought David Stern was the only one.