After sweeping the Angels in Anaheim on the heels of a 5-2 homestand, the Mariners are officially on their first hot streak of the season. Their record in June is a robust 8-2, which gives the team a terrific chance to have a winning month for the first time in quite literally years. Two weeks ago it looked like this season, and a certain manager’s job, may be lost. However, today it appears the Mariners have turned the corner and may be in line to make a surprising run at the division title.
The biggest reason for Seattle’s current surge is an improved offense. While many credit the recent improvement to Hargrove’s lineup shuffle a couple weeks back, the statistics show that the offense has actually been steadily improving throughout the entire season. To start with, Seattle as a team batted .249 in April, .275 in May, and are batting .294 so far in June. In addition their on-base percentage was .315 in April, .321 in May, and is .349 in June. However, what has really spiked is the power, as evidenced in the Mariners’ slugging percentage by month. Seattle had a paltry .389 SLG in April, a slightly improved .397 SLG in May, but have a prolific .522 slugging percentage so far this month! The drastic improvement is mostly due to Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre finally hitting the ball with authority, though sizzling months from Ichiro, Raul Ibanez, and Yuniesky Betancourt have certainly helped as well. The offense will probably not be able to keep up their current production, but it is not unreasonable to think that they can hit .275 as a team the rest of the way, with a .330 on-base percentage and .425 slugging or better. Offensive production like that would put them in the middle of the pack.
Like the offense, the pitching has improved too, though not as noticeably. Seattle pitching posted a 1.46 WHIP in April, a 1.33 WHIP in May, and a 1.34 WHIP so far in June. The staff’s strikeouts per nine innings has decreased, but that may not necessarily be a bad sign because the team is also facing fewer batters per nine innings. Interestingly, the team’s WHIP and K/9 IP are nearly identical for May and June, but the team ERA in May was 4.87 while in June it is 3.42. This is because the team allowed 34 home runs in May, but is only on pace to allow roughly 17 in June, literally half as many. Even more promising, the Mariners’ pitching numbers are likely to improve this month because it appears that Felix Hernandez is starting to find the dominating form he flashed last year, and Jarrod Washburn and Joel Pineiro have both struggled so far. Right now, the Mariners pitching is mediocre by major league standards, but if the home run rate stays at where it is in June and King Felix pitches like King Felix, the staff may be in the top third of baseball when the season is said and done.
The Mariners will not continue to win nine out of eleven games, but they have steadily improved despite what appears to be a maddeningly inconsistent season on the surface. If Seattle were to sweep the equally hot Oakland Athletics they would vault into second place in the AL West, be back to .500, and almost guarantee their first winning month in years. Even two out of three would be excellent. However, if Oakland continues to be a city of nightmares for Seattle, all hope is not lost. The M's ability to carry their hot streak on the road last weekend really showed me something, making me believe this team may win more than 75 games. The Mariners proved to me that they have made positive strides in every facet of the game, and even if their level of play begins to plateau, they will hang tough in the division race.