I know what you’re thinking. There is no way — NO WAY! — the Mariners can make the playoffs. It’s over. Done. The fat lady is performing her encore.
But you’re wrong. You are flat wrong.
Not only is not over, but there is plenty of time left for the Mariners to climb up the standings and send shockwaves through all of Major League Baseball.
In 1995, the team was 13 games back in August and managed to overcome all odds to win the division.
These days, we’re still in July and the M’s are a mere 7.5 games behind those very same Angels that sat atop the West 14 years ago. Child’s play.
If you’re feeling a little pessimistic about the rest of the 2009 season, we’re here to provide you with 11 reasons why the Mariners can still win the AL West. Eleven. That’s a lot.
11. Ronny Cedeno is no longer playing shortstop.
The trade of Cedeno to Pittsburgh is a highly underrated move that should make the Mariners a more formidable offensive and defensive team both now and in the future.
Honestly, I get that the front office “liked” Ronny Cedeno. Not unlike the way you “liked” that ex-girlfriend/boyfriend that you knew you’d never marry.
Cedeno was okay defensively and flat-out horrible at the plate. His absence is essentially addition by subtraction, and if this were women’s softball, there’s a good chance that Cedeno would have been the guy who was DH’ed for while the pitcher got to bat.
Sorry, Ronny, but I think I speak for most fans when I say we’re glad to see you go.
10. Carlos Silva is still injured.
Staying on the “addition by subtraction” topic for just a minute here, you may have noticed that one-time starting pitcher Carlos Silva is still MIA as the season rolls along.
This is, of course, the most fortuitous injury in the history of sports.
The farther we can keep Silva away from the action, the better this team will be. Let him hit up the postgame meal if he must, just don’t let him pick up a baseball.
9. Ian Snell is a lot better than most people realize.
Okay, so the newly acquired pitcher is going to kick off his Mariners career at Triple-A Tacoma, but don’t be fooled. The diminutive righthander should debut with the big club some time in the coming weeks, and when he does, rest assured you’ll be impressed.
Snell has struggled at the major league level this year, but the numbers are misleading. While laboring through the early part of the season, Snell was battling severe depression issues, which prompted his own request to be sent down to the minors.
He’s managed to work out the kinks with Pittsburgh’s Triple-A affiliate, and is on the fast track to a return to the bigs.
The 5’11”, 27-year-old throws a fastball in the mid-90s, along with a decent curve to keep hitters honest. On top of that, he’s a gamer that can go deep into ballgames and manages to strike out a ton of guys along the way.
He’ll be a rotation guy by the end of the season, and should fulfill that same role in the coming years, as well.
8. Our new shortstop is actually, you know, good.
Jack Wilson isn’t the best shortstop in baseball by any stretch of the imagination. But next to the dynamic duo of Yuniesky Betancourt and Ronny Cedeno, Wilson may as well be an All-Star.
Coincidentally, Wilson was at one time an All-Star while with Pittsburgh in 2004. That season, he posted career highs in batting average (.308), slugging percentage (.459), OPS (.754), SB (8), hits (201), doubles (41), triples (12), and at-bats (652). It was a banner year for the Southern California native.
Even though we’re now five years removed from Wilson’s career apex, the offensive numbers haven’t fallen off that greatly. His average tends to hover in the .260-.280, and if nothing else you can count on the scrappy infielder to provide a tough out at the plate.
Perhaps his greatest asset, however, is the glove.
Wilson is a fabulous defender with the range to make the toughest plays, while making most difficult plays look easy. He provides an upgrade defensively from what Cedeno brought to the table, and all he has to do is hit above .200 to make us appreciate his bat. The bar is set low, my friend.
7. The starting rotation is getting better.
Think about this: If Jarrod Washburn won all of his starts, we would still only be guaranteed victories in 20% of our games. What that tells me is that even if we end up trading Washburn before Friday’s deadline, we won’t necessarily experience a huge dropoff in our win totals down the stretch.
The addition of the aforementioned Snell gives the M’s a reliable starter to plug into the rotation should the team part ways with Washburn. On top of that, the reemergence of lefty Ryan Rowland-Smith has made this pitching staff that much more formidable.
Unlike some of the other lefties that have dotted the roster this year (Jason Vargas, Garrett Olson), Rowland-Smith is an intimidating mound presence who can throw a good, hard fastball. The fact that he took a no-hitter into the seventh inning on Wednesday against one of the best hitting ballclubs in the game doesn’t hurt, either.
If Erik Bedard can return in August fully healthy (a big IF), and Felix Hernandez continues to set down opposing lineups, the starters should provide the stuff we need to remain in contention the rest of the way.
6. The farm system is stocked with bullpen arms.
Maybe “stocked” isn’t exactly the right word. There isn’t a ton of depth in the system’s ‘pen, but there are enough good arms to provide reinforcements should any of the M’s relievers succumb to injury or fatigue.
Cesar Jimenez, for one, is on a rehab assignment in Tacoma right now. In four games since returning from injury, the lefthander has pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings, while giving up only three hits and one walk.
Then there’s righthander Phillippe Aumont, the team’s 2007 first-round draft pick. Aumont has split time in Single- and Double-A this season, and has been stellar at both stops. Currently, Aumont has a 2.89 ERA in eight games with Double-A West Tenn. He has notched two saves, while striking out 12 and walking just five.
Finally, you have Robert Manuel, a 26-year-old righthander that the Mariners obtained Wednesday in a trade for Wladimir Balentien.
Manuel isn’t a flamethrower by any means (his fastball barely touches 90 MPH), but he relies on deception and a good changeup to get hitters out. He also possesses big league experience with Cincinnati, and won MiLB.com’s Minor League Pitcher Of The Year Award in 2008. In 36 games at Triple-A Louisville this season, Manuel had a 2.70 ERA, 10 saves, and a 38/10 K/BB ratio.
5. The backups are good.
Take your pick: Jack Hannahan, Chris Woodward, Chris Shelton, or Ryan Langerhans.
All four have been pressed into starting duty at some point this season, and all four have performed admirably in the face of adversity.
Hannahan has filled in for the injured Adrian Beltre at third base after arriving in a trade with Oakland.
The lefthanded hitter has provided some of Beltre’s pop (he already has a multi-homer game to his credit), while providing stellar defense that was sorely missed when Woodward was forced to take over at the hot corner prior to Hannahan’s arrival.
Woodward has made a position switch (he played the first games of his career at third base when Beltre went down), and now becomes the team’s backup middle infielder with Hannahan proving reliable and Ronny Cedeno out of the fold.
Though he won’t do much at the plate, Woodward provides a steady hand in the field that should be useful in the late innings of close games.
Shelton is a reclamation project of sorts that can hit the cover off the ball.
He can play either corner infield position, and should there be an emergency, he can also catch. There’s no denying, however, that Shelton’s greatest asset is his bat, and when he’s not in the lineup he could very well be tapped for pinch hitting duties.
Langerhans was brought over from the Nationals organization to platoon in left field with Wladimir Balentien. Unfortunately, the southpaw couldn’t get his bat in order and now he finds himself on the bench, even with Balentien on his way to Cincinnati.
The M’s have opted to go with rookie Michael Saunders in left for the remainder of the season, but as a fourth outfielder, the team could do much, much worse than the reliable Langerhans. He can play all three outfield positions and gives the team an outstanding defender that, like Woodward, could be called on in the late innings to preserve a victory.
4. David Aardsma is lights out.
Forget all the talk about Josh Fields or Phillippe Aumont as our closer of the future: David Aardsma is our closer of the future and that’s about it. The best part is he’s also the closer of the present, and he’s damn good at his job.
The hard-throwing righthander, who had zero career saves entering this season, has been an absolute rock at the back end of the Mariners’ bullpen. So far in 2009, Aardsma is 3-3, has 25 saves in 27 opportunities, has a 58/27 K/BB ratio, and has maintained an ERA of 1.67. Opposing batters are only hitting .163 against him.
With the trade of former closer J.J. Putz in the offseason, as well as the transition of Brandon Morrow back to the starting rotation, the closer role was arguably the biggest question the team was forced to answer in the early part of the season. Thanks to the response of Aardsma, that question has been answered.
3. Current standings aside, the Rangers and Angels can be overtaken.
Beginning today, the Mariners play 10 more games against Texas and six more games against Anaheim in the regular season. That affords the team plenty of opportunity to control their own destiny by knocking off their intradivision foes.
Right now, the M’s are 3.5 games back of Texas and 7.5 back of Anaheim. Yes, they’ll need some help from other ballclubs, but if they can handle their own business and win each of the remaining series’ against their AL West rivals, they should put themselves in good position to remain in close heat with both teams.
Plus, each team has weaknesses that could easily be exploited through the brutal stretch of August.
Texas could wilter in the Arlington heat, and pitching is always a question in their bandbox of a ballpark. The health of outfielder Josh Hamilton is also a concern, as the superstar is still recovering from two separate stints on the disabled list.
Anaheim, too, is battling serious injury but still keeps managing to eke out wins.
With Vladimir Guerrero and Torii Hunter on the shelf, among others, the Angels have still produced victories. Who knows what happens if and when these guys make a reappearance in the lineup. There’s a great chance that the smoke and mirrors the Haloes seem to be winning with could vanish in an instant.
2. The presence of Ken Griffey, Jr.
There is no one more pivotal to the success of the Seattle Mariners than Junior. He may not be the team’s biggest run producer anymore, or even their greatest star, but he might very well be magical.
Even if he isn’t a magician, he is, without a doubt, a remarkable influence on the atmosphere surrounding the team.
Griffey has managed to keep the roster cool, calm, and collected all season long (with some help from pal Mike Sweeney), and they’ll need that attitude in the heat of a grueling pennant race.
With trades brewing and the lineup shuffling on a seemingly daily basis, Junior can provide a beacon for his teammates to look up to during uncertain times.
And come on. You have to figure the guy is worth at least one or two more superhero moments in his storied career.
No matter what the stats say, this is Junior’s team and he can lead this club to the postseason.
1. The team isn’t selling.
They’ve already traded prospects in one major deal and acquired two veterans in the process. That sure doesn’t look like a seller to me.
Okay, so they might part ways with a guy like Jarrod Washburn in the ensuing hours. But even if they do, it can no longer be considered a true sell-type move with the acquisitions they’ve recently made.
This team isn’t ready to mitigate the future to contend in ’09. But they aren’t prepared to throw in the towel and build around prospects, either, giving fans hope that this could very well be the year.
In the next 24 hours the team might just choose to hold onto all their cards and stack the deck down the stretch. No one says they have to deal Washburn, and with Philadelphia out of the picture, there may not be many worthy suitors pursuing the lefthander any longer.
That leaves the M’s in an interesting place. Somehow, they’ve managed to build towards the future and improve the current makeup of the roster at the exact same time. You have to appreciate the complexity of that, and realize that the organization is with us, the fans, in trying to reach the playoffs for the first time in eight years.
You just gotta believe.