A disappointing Seattle Mariners team will have to play much better in the second half of the season than it did in the first half to have any shot at making the postseason.
Through 70 games, the Mariners sit at a lowly 32-38. That's 8.5 games behind the surprising Houston Astros in the American League West, and six teams currently stand between Seattle and the second wild card.
On paper, this looked like the Mariners' best chance to make the playoffs or even win the World Series, so it's hard to be too optimistic about the club at the moment. While there's still time for the Mariners to go on a hot streak and get back into it, it isn't early in the season anymore.
There are a few key takeaways from the first 70 games of Seattle's 2015 campaign, and most of them aren't positive.
The pitching looks to be set up nicely for the present and future...
Once again, the Mariners' pitching staff has found ways to be successful despite dealing with multiple injuries. After a rough first few weeks of the season, Seattle starters have climbed to fourth in the AL in ERA and fifth in strikeout-to-walk percentage.
Apart from two uncharacteristically bad starts earlier this month, Felix Hernandez has again been spectacular. An even more encouraging sign is the development of some young pitchers.
The biggest concern of the early season was Taijuan Walker looking completely lost on the mound. However, Walker has been dominant over his last five starts, posting a 2.06 ERA in 35 innings with 38 strikeouts and just three walks.
Roenis Elias has also been solid for the most part since being called up in late April. In 11 starts, Elias has a 3.56 ERA (4.44 Fielding Independent Pitching), has decreased his walk rate by 1.3 percentage points since last year and flashed dominant upside by allowing two runs in seven innings with 10 strikeouts and no walks against Houston on Friday.
James Paxton also had a nice stretch in May although it is definitely time to be worried about his injury history. If those four can stay healthy (a huge "if" for any pitcher), the Mariners should be in good hands for the foreseeable future.
A nice surprise has been Mike Montgomery, who has looked like a capable back-end starter since being pressed into action. It's just four games into Montgomery's career, but so far, he's done a nice job of mixing up his pitches and avoiding hard contact to make up for his lack of overpowering stuff. The Mariners need Montgomery to pitch well, as he represents just about the only pitching depth in the minor league system.
The bullpen has struggled a bit more at times than last year. There is some good news, as Carson Smith appears to be the new closer, a role he should keep for a long time.
...While the offense is still a problem
Looking at individual stats, the poor output is a bit hard to figure. Nelson Cruz has been one of the best hitters in the majors, Seth Smith has been good, and five regulars own a weighted runs created plus (wRC+) above 100.
However, three spots in the lineup have been black holes, and the bench has been woeful, as was expected. Seattle also has been awful hitting with runners in scoring position whether that's bad luck or some organizational failure.
The biggest culprit has been Robinson Cano, who owns a 73 wRC+ and minus-0.2 WAR. Everyone expected the Cano deal to become a terrible contract at some point but certainly not in the second year.
If Cano continues to play like this, the Mariners can forget about the playoffs this season, and they'll be in huge trouble for years to come.
There was nothing wrong with adding Rickie Weeks or trading for Mark Trumbo on an individual level. However, it's becoming frustrating to see the Mariners continue to focus on the same player type: right-handed, high-power, low-OBP hitters with no defensive abilities. Unless the offense improves, the Mariners could be looking at changes at the top and another lengthy rebuild.
It's time to move on from Dustin Ackley and be worried about Mike Zunino
Ackley and Zunino were two of the biggest question marks in Seattle's projected everyday lineup heading into the season. Both have a lot of untapped potential at the plate but haven't proved much in the major leagues yet.
For a time last year, Ackley remembered to hit to all fields and put up offensive numbers reminiscent of his rookie season. That hasn't carried over to 2015 at all, as Ackley has a .190/.250/.310 line in 61 games.
Ackley is now nearly 2,200 plate appearances into his career with a 89 wRC+, and it might be time for the Mariners to just move on. A former top prospect who can play multiple positions fairly well might have at least a minimum amount of trade value, and it wouldn't be a surprise if Ackley was elsewhere after the deadline.
Zunino isn't nearly as long into his career, and he's fantastic on the defensive side, so it isn't time to give up on him yet. But it is time to be worried, as Zunino was supposed to make major strides this year with another season of experience under his belt.
Instead, Zunino has been worse almost across the board, with a .158/.230/.300 line. A walk rate that is nearly doubled is at least something, but Zunino is striking out over 4 percentage points more.
Ideally, Zunino would be in the minors right now, getting the development the organization denied him for no apparent reason in 2013. However, the Mariners have no other catcher in the system who could possibly start in the big leagues, a major knock against the front office.
All stats via FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.
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