Thankfully, there are reasons to smile after a series victory in Toronto, and a .500 road trip. The pitching was quite good (with the exception of the Saturday game in Boston), and there were several exciting games. However, even though this team is on a hot streak by 2008 Mariner standards, the offense is still woeful. They simply do not score runs, and it ultimately cost Jeff Pentland his job.
How did this team regress so much in so little time? I went to my rating system to hopefully find answers. In 2007, the Mariners offense as a whole rated a 75. In other words, it was completely average. In 2008, their rating is a 71, which would even be a significant drop for an individual player. For a team, it might as well be a kiss of death (as we have witnessed). Specifically, where are the problems? Here is a position-by-position breakdown, using my hitter rating formula:
2007: Jose Vidro - 76
2008: Jose Vidro - 66
Here is gaping hole number one. When a team's designated hitter grades out as a poor bench bat, the team's offense is probably struggling. Expecting a repeat of 2007 from Vidro (as the Mariners were) was likely too much, but expecting more than he has contributed so far was certainly fair. Vidro's strengths last year were making good contact and working counts, but he does not make solid contact all that often this year. The M's should cut him loose at this point and give anyone else a chance.
2007: Kenji Johjima - 74
2007: Kenji Johjima - 65
Here is gaping hole number two. An offensive rating as poor as Kenji's this year is palatable out of a catcher if the team has a strong offense, and if the catcher's defense is remarkable. Neither can be said in this case. Kenji is getting old in catching terms, so a drop-off would have been wise to anticipate (though I do not think the M's did anticipate one). However, trailing off this severely is certainly unexpected. I could have told Bavasi that signing Kenji to an extension was a big mistake, but the numbers are doing more than a good enough job of that right now.
2007: Richie Sexson - 70
2008: Richie Sexson - 71
As much as Richie seems to embody the lack of offense this year, he really should not take any of the blame. Though it is still not pretty watching him swing the bat, he is a little bit better than last year to this point. Sexson still is among the worst starting first baseman in baseball today, but the same could be said last year. Even worse, there probably is not a better option in the minor leagues right now, so the M's might as well trot him out there every day. He does add a power presence, and he has a history of heating up in the second half.
2007: Jose Lopez - 67
2008: Jose Lopez - 73
Not surprisingly, Lopez is the brightest spot on the team. He has rebounded from his 2007 struggles, though he also has a history of collapsing after the All-Star break. His batting average continues to flirt with .300, but he never walks and hits for little power, which is why he still rates as a below-average offensive player. However, Lopez hit for quite a bit of power before Hargrove and Pentland got to him, so maybe Lee Elia can bring some of that power back.
2007: Yuniesky Betancourt - 72
2008: Yuniesky Betancourt - 72
Yuni is what he is. Much like Lopez, he flirts with .300, but not with a ton of power and stunningly few walks. So, he still is a below average offensive player. Really, Betancourt is an ideal number nine hitter, but on this team he should be batting higher up. Personally, I would bat him fifth.
2007: Adrian Beltre - 77
2008: Adrian Beltre - 74
Beltre has a history of heating up in the second half for the Mariners, so perhaps he can get back to his form from previous years. On the other hand, the team revealed today that he is playing with torn ligament in his left wrist, and has been all year. In light of that, Beltre's year is somewhat impressive, and his performance has not been a major problem anyway on this roster of headaches.
2007: Raul Ibanez - 79
2008: Raul Ibanez - 76
Much like virtually every M's hitter, Raul is worse this year than he was in 2007. However, in Raul's case, the Mariners should have seen this coming. Ibanez has quietly been a borderline All-Star ever since returning to Seattle, but eventually age catches up. Raul is at a point where he should begin to decline, and the major power outage he suffered before the All Star Break should have woken up the front office. However, as with all the veterans on this squad, the M's seemed to assume they would simply duplicate what they did last year.
2007: Ichiro - 82
2008: Ichiro - 80
I could just copy and paste what I wrote for Raul. At some point, Ichiro is going to get old. Though it would not surprise me if he ages gracefully and has many productive years left, at some point he is not going to be what he used to be. Everyone keeps expecting a surge out of him, and I will not rule that out. However, it would not be shocking if what we have seen is what we get in 2008. I do give John McLaren credit for challenging Ichiro to steal more this year, because his excellent stolen base total is what has him rated this high, and using his speed more will make him more effective as his hitting declines.
2007: Jose Guillen - 78
2008: Wilkerson/Balentien/Reed - 68/67/72
Right field was the one position even the M's front office had to concede was going to be worse than a year ago. However, they certainly did not envision it being this much worse. Both Wilkerson and Balentien have struggled mightily, and Reed does not have enough bats to fairly evaluate him. Moving forward, I would let Reed get the bulk of the playing time, because he may be a better hitter than Balentien right now, and he certainly is a better defender. I will not comment on Wilkerson. It was a bad idea to sign him from the start. He gave the Mariners exactly what they should have expected out of him.
In the end, there is no specific reason why the Mariners are so much worse offensively than they were last year. The front should certainly be blamed if the expected anything more out of right field than they have received so far. Also, the front office should be blamed some for not expecting drop-offs from Kenji Johjima, Jose Vidro, Raul Ibanez, and Ichiro. On the other hand, Johjima and Vidro have been much worse than anyone could have anticipated, and Beltre's torn ligament is simply bad fortune. It does not help that nobody is playing better than could have been expected, either.
Still, at this point, I blame the front office. They continue to throw the players under the bus and simply say that the talent on the roster should be producing more wins. Really, the only two players that have truly underperformed are Kenji Johjima and Jose Vidro, and there is more to the problem than just those two. The players have taken more than their fair share of the responsibility at this point, and the front office is doing this team no favors by asking the current personnel to do more than they are capable of. Sadly, there is not much hope of this offense producing more until the front office realizes that this lineup simply is not as good as they think it is.