Indians Take Winning Ways on the Road to Seattle
The Indians finally seem to be hitting their stride, both literally and figuratively. After Wednesday afternoon’s 12-3 drubbing of the Texas Rangers at Progressive Field, the Indians, winners in nine of their last thirteen games, will travel all the way to Seattle to take on a Mariners team that has struggled with the weight of expectations. Sure sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
The Mariners were picked by many people to be the best of a weakened AL West. The A’s had just finished a fire sale, the Rangers continue to be bogged down in rebuilding, and the Astros too young and unproven. Only the Angels, a team loaded with talent and led by Mike Trout, were considered to be a threat to the Mariners’ eventual ascension to the top of the division. Unfortunately, things haven’t gone as planned.
May 20, 2015; Baltimore, MD, USA; Seattle Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano (22) runs to first base after singling during the first inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
A little under two months into the season and the Mariners once again find themselves looking up in the division standings. However, this time it isn’t to either the Angels or A’s. This time it’s the surprising Houston Astros, owners of the best record in the American League and largest division lead of any team in baseball. Meanwhile, the Mariners sit in second at 23-23, a mere half game separating them from both the Angels and Rangers. When regression finally hits the Astros, as many expect it will, the Mariners find themselves in prime position to sneak into the AL West lead.
But until then, why has a team loaded with so much talent barely held its head above water after two months of the season. This is not the same Punch and Judy hitting Mariner lineup of days gone by. This is a lineup that currently ranks fourth in all of baseball in home runs hit with 58. Unfortunately, that’s all they are doing right. Despite the power production in the home run column, the Mariners rank 27th in runs scored, 26th in average, 27th on OBP, and only 14th in slugging. Basically, they’re either hitting home runs, or nothing else.
A big reason for the uptick in home runs has been the addition of Nelson Cruz to the heart of the Mariners’ lineup. Cruz once again looks like the best offseason signing in all of baseball. One year after leading the majors in homers, Cruz once again sits at the top of the mountain with Bryce Harper at 18 dingers. No other Mariner has come close to that level of power production. The next closest is Kyle Seager who, thanks to a recent hot streak (5 home runs in his last 10 games) currently sits at second on the team with nine homers.
Another contributing factor has been the continuing disappointments of Dustin Ackley, Brad Miller, and Mike Zunino. All three were highly regarded in the Mariners’ farm system coming up and all three continue to struggle. For Ackley and Miller this has become the norm, but for Zunino, the returns have been even more discouraging. He was expected to be a power bat and at times has displayed as much, but his inability to get on base or hit for average has many concerned for his long-term sustainability.
However, the biggest disappointment for the Mariners in 2015 has been Robinson Cano. After struggling with his power numbers in 2014, something many attributed to the change from Yankee Stadium to Safeco Field, Cano has seemingly fallen off a cliff in 2015. All of his stats are down across the board. Is it simply a slow start, or a sign that the 32-year-old second baseman is finally beginning to show his age? Many thought his 10-year $240-million contract was a mistake, but no one realistically thought things would begin going south as early as year two. If things don’t correct themselves quickly, it could start getting stormy in Seattle.
As for the pitching staff, the Mariners rank right in the middle of the pack. Of course, much of that is thanks to Felix Hernandez, who has been great once again. His 1.91 ERA is fantastic, he’s striking out a batter per inning pitched, and dominating opposing pitchers to the tune of a .195/.253/.313 opposition slash line. So yeah, he’s great. It’s everything after Hernandez that’s been a disaster.
Taijuan Walker, regarded by many to be the second coming of King Felix has been awful in 9 starts, posting a 7.33 ERA and 1.84 WHIP. Shoulder issues haven’t help him any, but everyone expected more from the young right hander.Meanwhile, J.A. Happ and James Paxton have been respectable, posting 3.71 and 3.52 ERAs respectively. Pitching in a pitcher friendly home park, you would expect somewhat better results from your pitching staff. But, no such luck for the Mariners.
For the Indians, this is another opportunity to really get themselves going. A four game series against an underachieving opponent AND they don’t have to worry about facing Felix Hernandez? That should be a recipe for winning three out of four or possibly a four game sweep. If the Indians can do that and give themselves some real momentum heading into next week’s three game series in Kansas City against the Royals, the Indians could begin to lay the groundwork for a serious move up the standings.
Probable Pitching Match-ups:
Corey Kluber (2-5, 3.49 ERA/1.12 WHIP) vs. James Paxton (3-2, 3.52/1.25)
Trevor Bauer (4-1, 3.02/1.16) vs. Taijuan Walker (1-5, 7.33/1.84)
Danny Salazar (5-1, 3.65/1.14) vs. J.A. Happ (3-1, 3.71/1.22)