Seattle Mariners a Solid Bet
by Trevor Whenham - 05/15/2007
When I was growing up, the Seattle Mariners' Triple-A affiliate was in my hometown. I didn't realize how lucky I was at the time to watch players like Danny Tartabull, Tino Martinez, Edgar Martinez and, briefly, Alex Rodriguez, take their last steps towards impressive pro careers. Because of those experiences I have always had a bit of a soft spot for the lowly Mariners. They've been a hard franchise to get behind for a while now, but this year I do feel like they are worth defending. They aren't a great team, but they are much better than people give them credit for, and they have been very kind to their backers. Here are my top four reasons why the Mariners deserve more respect than they get from most bettors:
Offensive upside - The team isn't setting the world on fire with their bats, but the fact is that they have been scoring enough runs to be a game above .500, and they have done that despite not getting the production they can expect from several key players. Ichiro Suzuki got off to his typically slow start, but he has been heating up gradually over the last dozen games or so. Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson have big bats, but you'd never guess it from their combined .213 batting average. They have a lineup full of proven hitters, and there is solid reason to believe that most of them will get better as the season goes along. No one is the lineup is playing unsustainable ball right now, either, so the team won't struggle when someone falls back to earth. More than one of these guys is going to get hot at some point this year, and that is going to turn into wins.
A sign of the offensive potential is the way that they have absolutely dominated left-handed pitchers this year. They are 6-2 when they have faced a southpaw starter, and they have scored more than two runs per game more in those games than they have against righties. In fact, the only thing they have consistently struggled with all year is facing right-handers on the road. A little improvement could go a long way.
The other comforting part of how the team is performing offensively is their batting discipline. That seems odd to say about a team that has far fewer walks than anyone else in the league. More importantly, though, they have also struck out far fewer times than any other squad. If they aren't striking out a lot then they aren't swinging at a ton of pitches that they shouldn't, and their good eye at the plate is going to be rewarded sooner or later.
The Weaver Factor - There is no way to overstate how bad Jeff Weaver has been this year. He is 0-6 in six appearances, and all six of those starts have been completely hopeless after a couple of innings thanks to his complete inability to get anyone out. His ERA is 14.32 in 22 innings, and frankly, he's lucky that it's that low. While it is bad decision making at it's worst that led to Weaver being offered a fairly sizable contract in the offseason, the point is that this team is good enough to still be above .500 despite having him on the team. There is no team in the league that could win with him as he is, so you really have to consider that this team is at least a few wins better theoretically than it is on record.
There's another element to this team that Weaver exposes, too - they are a very mentally tough squad. Losing games like they do with him has to be humiliating, yet they have bounced back to post a 4-2 record in the game after he appears, and one of those losses was the game in which Felix Hernandez left with an injury just one out into the start. Lesser teams would use Weaver as an excuse to give up. The injury to King Felix is another sign of that toughness. Their young ace was off to an amazing start before he got hurt. They responded to his absence by losing that game and the next four. They were able to regroup, though, only losing Weaver's start over the next eight. Their record has been better without Hernandez than it was with him.
The Bullpen - This stat is so incredible that you might not believe it to be true - the Mariners are 16-0 when they have had the lead going into the seventh inning. That's a sure sign that the bullpen is firing on all cylinders. J.J. Putz may have an unfortunate last name, but he has been as solid as any closer in the league with nine saves in as many attempts. He's joined by guys who aren't exactly big names, but who are getting it done - Eric O'Flaherty, Chris Reitsma, George Sherrill. They added the hard throwing Jason Davis from Cleveland, a player Mike Hargrove is familiar with from his days with the Indians, to add more depth. A bad bullpen can make a decent team pretty lousy, but a great bullpen can make an average team look good. For this reason alone you have to like the Mariners, especially when they give the ball to someone who can give the bullpen a lead to work with.
They make money - This one shouldn't need a lot of explanation. They have been profitable over the season, and they have been winning consistently recently as underdogs. The numbers get even more impressive if you throw out the game any time that Weaver takes the mound. Whether you think this team is any good or not, the undeniable truth is that they have been consistently better than oddsmakers think that they are.