Cruz Ex Machina

1518534

The term “Deus Ex Machina” in Latin means god from the machine. The phrase has evolved to mean a plot device where a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly resolved by the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability, or object.

In the cinematic world, “Deus Ex Machina” is usually considered cheating, a lazy way for the director to solve the plot. “Oh the character about to be killed by the villain is suddenly saved when a giant bird swoops down to save the day? Yeah… sure… how convenient.”

Last year, cleanup hitters for Seattle combined to hit .218/.295/.352 with a wOBA of .290 and a wRC+ of 87. This was a huge problem. Having a spot in the order that is 13% below league average is bad enough, but having that hole in the middle of the lineup destroys the ability to manufacture runs. A near automatic out between your best two hitters, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager, was a large part of the reason why the Mariners were 19th in the league in runs. Not only that, but without a competent hitter protecting Cano, his production became somewhat limited, as pitchers never really needed to pitch to him.

But, like a Peter Jackson film, the Mariners have found their very convenient hero. Nelson Cruz has become their Cruz Ex Machina.

After suffering a bit of a slow star, Cruz has been incredible so far this year. He’s hitting .328/.369/.738 with a wRC+ of 203. He leads the league in both home runs and runs batted in, with 8 and 17 respectively. This kind of production is exactly what the Mariners have been needing for quite some time now. Having a player as good at getting on base as Robinson Cano is of little use when there is nobody behind him to drive him in. Cruz has become the link that connects the top of the order with the bottom of the order, and he’s been a big reason why Seattle has looked better offensively this year.

###

Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner
Like us on Facebook: Seatown Mariners

2015 Seattle Mariners Top Prospects: #8 Victor Sanchez, RIP

IMG_5542

2014 was a breakout year for the Seattle Mariners, but an array of intriguing prospects could mean the best is yet to come.

8. Victor Sanchez, Age 20, RHP

If you haven’t heard by now, Mariners prospect Victor Sanchez passed away in late March due to injuries sustained in a boating accident. The accident happened in February, after I had made my top prospect list. 

Sanchez was one of the most promising pitching prospects in the Mariners system. He signed in 2011, and began working his way through the minor leagues in 2012. He pitched for Everett, Clinton, and most recently, Jackson, where he posted a 4.19 ERA with 97 strikeouts in 124.2 innings. He was going to join the Mariners’ minor league camp at Spring Training in Arizona.

Sanchez was a promising, young prospect. His early passing brought me much sadness, as he was one of my favorite prospects. I remember watching one of his first professional starts against the Dust Devils back in 2012. Victor will always be remembered by his family, friends, and all of us as Mariner fans.

###

Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner
Like us on Facebook: Seatown Mariners

And All is Well: Week #2 Review

628x471

It’s hard to unburn jerseys…

Record: 5-7 (2-4);  in AL West

If you recall, after winning two close games to the Athletics, it seemed the Mariners had righted the ship, snapping a three game losing streak. That’s why when Seattle got out to an early 4-0 lead against the Los Angeles Dodgers, it seemed like everything was going right. But no, it was all about to go wrong. The Mariners had given the lead back by the bottom of the fifth while their bats ran cold, allowing the Dodgers to eventually outlast Seattle’s bullpen with a walk off single in the tenth.

That was just one game, right? Nope. A similar theme continued on Tuesday, as Fernando Rodney gave up two runs in the bottom of the ninth, allowing the Dodgers to walk off again. Many expected Taijuan Walker to bounce back after an awful performance in his first outing, but he was just as bad on Wednesday, giving up five runs on six hits and four walks. The Mariners embarrassed themselves on national television, highlighted by Robinson Cano walking home and being tagged out on what he thought was a bases loaded walk. Just absolutely awful baseball, and it was hard to feel any optimism moving into the off day.

The Mariners continued to underwhelm on Friday, in the first of three games against the Rangers. Seattle scattered eight hits and lost in a way that reminds us of seasons pasts. At 3-7, hope was fading fast. But lo! King Felix Hernandez to the rescue! Felix was remarkable on Saturday night (which just so happened to be his bobble head night). He went seven strong innings, giving up only one run on two hits, striking out twelve Rangers. Rodney came in to get the save and he incredibly didn’t allow a base runner! It seemed like a momentum shifting game, but the best was yet to come.

The Mariners got out to an early lead on Sunday, in their new cream uniforms (nice cream Sunday… heh…), but Paxton allowed seven runs (five unearned) in the third inning to pretty much end any hope of taking the series finale. A three run homer in the bottom of the inning added some life, but it was only to be canceled out by a three spot for the Rangers in the sixth. However, the Mariners kept chipping away, scoring six runs in the final three innings, including a walk off RBI single by Nelson Cruz in the bottom of the ninth. Sunday’s game showed tremendous character and resiliency by this team, and we may finally have seen the breakthrough for this Mariner club.

Who’s hot

Four games into his Mariner career, rumblings about Nelson Cruz being a bust were already starting to work their way around social media and the blogosphere. It’s safe to say that he has officially silenced his critics. In the last eight games, Cruz is hitting .485 with eight home runs and nine runs batted in. He already has two multi-homer games, including a stretch of six home runs in five games. If that wasn’t enough already, Cruz added a walk off RBI single on Sunday to beat the Rangers 11-10.

Who’s not

The pitching has been exceptionally bad this week. It’s strange to think that the Mariners offense has been the one bailing them out. In the non-Felix games this past week, Seattle has given up 30 runs, an average of six per game. Yeah this offense is way better so far this year, but there is no way any team can expect to win games while giving up six runs each night. That being said, pitching will be the strength of this team going forward, and I expect them to figure it out soon.

Injury Updates

Tom Wilhelmsen landed on the 15-day disabled list after hyperextending his right elbow in a freak accident with teammate Danny Farquhar. The injury isn’t extremely serious, and the DL stint is mostly precautionary. Wilhelmsen will likely begin throwing again this week.

The Mariners activated short stop Christ Taylor from the disabled list, optioning him to Tacoma to continue his rehab assignment. Taylor seems fully healthy and has no restrictions, so it’s only a matter of time before he returns to the Major League team.

Roster Transactions

With Wilhelmsen going to the disabled list, Dominic Leone was called up to fill his spot. Leone has made three appearances since returning to the Big Leagues, giving up one earned run in 3.2 innings. He pitched very well during the fist half of 2014, but he was shaky down the stretch, and wasn’t all that inspiring during Spring Training. Leone has been given a huge opportunity, and the Mariners need him to step up.

###

Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner
Like us on Facebook: Seatown Mariners

The Mariners are not Sisyphus

Juan Uribe, Robinson Cano

WARNING: The following contains subjective ramblings. 

The Dodgers completed their three game sweep with a 5-2 win over Seattle on Wednesday, and the Mariners’ record dropped to 3-6. It isn’t just the fact that the team has lost games, it’s the way they’ve lost them. Bad pitching from the starters, blown leads from the bullpen, and major mental gaffes from veterans, as exhibited by Robinson Cano’s TOOTBLAN on Wednesday. Like many others before it, this season came with huge expectations, and so far it hasn’t really given us any reason to feel that our optimism was valid.

In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was compelled to push a large bolder up a mountain, only to find himself back at the bottom. This was his punishment for a life filled with deictfulness.

This ancient myth seems like it could fit fairly well with the Mariners. After narrowly missing the post season last year, fans have finally begun to believe in their team, expecting to reach the playoffs in 2015. A monumental collapse and sub-.500 record this year would allow the Sisyphus analogy to fit perfectly. Maybe last year was the highest point this team will ever reach, and these first nine games is the realization that we’re right back at the bottom of the mountain, only to begin the gradual asymptotic ascent once again.

But this team is different. This team is good. This team is not Sisyphus.

The Mariners have struggled, and (hopefully) found their floor. This isn’t a bad thing at all. In fact, Wednesday night’s loss may have been exactly what the team needed to spark some fire. The meltdown of basic baseball fundamentals could serve as a big wake up call for the players. Before Wednesday, it was easy to say “It’s early, it’ll happen soon.” But after that game, it’s obvious that the team hasn’t been focussed or mentally engaged to the level they need to be.  It seems as if they’re just expecting wins, rather than fighting for them like in 2014.

The Mariners are still a very good, with loads of talent waiting to be  Taijuan Walker and James Paxton are high level talents who will undoubtedly turn it around. Hisashi Iwakuma and Felix Hernanez have yet to find their normal selves, but, when they do, combine to make one of the best starting pitching duos in baseball. Dustin Ackley finally looks like a Major Leaguer. Robinson Cano hasn’t even begun to produce yet, despite absolutely crushing the ball. Nelson Cruz is mashing, but nobody is on base to knock in. Kyle Seager is starting to turn it around after a slow start. We can see the pieces slowly coming together, and that shows incredible promise for the rest of 2015.

No, the Mariners are not Sisyphus. They are a coil spring that was being compressed over the course of their first nine games. Now, this team is ready to explode all of that potential onto their opponents. We are nine games into the baseball season, and the Seattle Mariners are about to be unleashed.

### 

Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner
Like us on Facebook: Seatown Mariners

2015 Seattle Mariners Top Prospects: #9 Ryan Yarbrough

mlbf_47982183_th_45

2014 was a breakout year for the Seattle Mariners, but an array of intriguing prospects could mean the best is yet to come.

9. Ryan Yarbrough, Age 23, Rk/A-

Drafted in the fourth round out of Old Dominion, Yarbrough proved to be a steal for the Mariners. In 42.2 innings across two levels, the tall lefty pitched to a 1.27 ERA with 58 strikeouts and just five walks. He also posted a WHIP of 0.727, as batters managed a measly .170 batting average against him.

Yarbrough’s fastball sits at 92-93 mph, which is actually faster than he threw in college. His best secondary pitch is a changeup, with excellent late bite that fools hitter. It’s already a plus pitch, and grades as one of the best changeups from last years draft class. His curveball does need some work. It looks like more of a slurve as it is now, but if he can tighten it up, it should be a solid pitch in the future.

In addition to his excellent arsenal of pitches, Yarbrough adds deception by throwing out of a high, three-quarter delivery. His command is pristine and he is able to generate a fair amount of ground balls. Maturity and refined skills will allow him to advance quickly through the minor leagues. If he can add some weight to his 6’5″, 205 pound frame, he should be durable enough to stay as a starting pitcher. If not, he can be used as an excellent relief option out of the bullpen. Yarbrough has all the tools necessary to be a very good Major League pitcher in the future.

###

Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner
Like us on Facebook: Seatown Mariners

Dustin Ackley Is Hot

dustin-ackley-rich-donnelly-mlb-los-angeles-angels-seattle-mariners1-850x560

Nelson Cruz was a huge addition to the heart of Seatlle’s lineup. He, Robinson Cano, and Kyle Seager makeup possibly the best 3-4-5 in baseball. We know what the can, and will, do for this Mariners’ offense. But that being said, they account for just one-third of the order. Others need to step up to help this team reach the post-season for the first time since 2001.

Slow starts by Cano, Cruz, and Seager are of no concern for Mariner fans. They have long track records of success and we know they’ll break out of it (and it appears they already are). But others on the team don’t have that luxury. Dustin Ackley has a history of taking a while to get going. After last year, this team knows how important every game is, and sacrificing possible wins while players try to figure it out will not be tolerated.

Ackley’s habit  of slow starts and overall struggles against lefties have left him in a platoon with veteran Rickie Weeks. Early season performance could make a huge impact on whether or not the platoon is a permanent thing. If one player well outperforms the other, the platoon could dissolve and turn into a full time job.

In five games this year, Ackley is hitting .353/.421/.941 with three home runs, a double, and two walks. However, ut’s impossible to put merit into just 20 plate appearances. The outcome of a plate appearance is not necessarily as important as the quality, however, if you have seen Dustin Ackley’s at bats, you know why he is getting results.

Ackley has been very aggressive at the plate, and has seen only 76 pitches, the 20th fewest of all players with at least 20 plate appearances. That’s not always a good thing in every case, but if you’re hitting well, it usually is. Being aggressive and going after pitches before he is behind in the count allows him to be in charge of his at bat, rather than just trying to stay alive with two strikes. I can’t tell you how many times I saw Ackley get behind in the count in 2014, and it’s really hard to do anything when you’re constantly hitting with two strikes. That being said, Ackley isn’t being overly aggressive and swinging at bad pitches. So far, he has shown great plate discipline, and that is a huge improvement over 2014.

Maybe the most exciting part of this changed Dustin Ackley is just how hard the ball comes off his bat. He is really exploding through the ball, and everything he hits is on a rope. He has yet to hit any pop-ups this year, according to Fangraphs’ spray chart:

chart

 

Ackley’s new approach has not gone unnoticed by Lloyd McClendon, as he found himself leading off against the Dodgers Monday night. The Mariners haven’t really had a good leadoff/two-hole hitter since the days of Ichiro. Ackley has been placed there before, mostly because of his general skill set, but has always been removed after under performing. If he continues to hit well and ends up permanently atop the order, that will be a huge boost to Seattle’s offense, who’s first two batters hit a combined .235 in 2014.

This new version of Dustin Ackley is so important for the Mariners to capitalize on. Obviously, his stats will come down a bit, but that doesn’t mean he can’t still be great. And a fourth above average hitter, to go along with the already awesome 3-4-5, could make the Mariners offense one of the most potent in the Major Leagues. If he can continue to utilize his new approach, expect Ackley to wind up with the every day left field job, hitting at the top of lineup in front of Robinson Cano.

###

Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner
Like us on Facebook: Seatown Mariners

2015 Mariners Top Prospects: #10 Tyler O’Neill

IMG_5478

2014 was a breakout year for the Seattle Mariners, but an array of intriguing prospects could mean the best is yet to come.

10. Tyler O’Neill, Age 20, Rk/A-/A

O’Neill’s stats weren’t fantastic in 2014, but he still produced a solid season across three levels. In 61 games, he hit .251/.326/.468 with 13 home runs and five stolen bases. He also struck out 85 times, compared to just 21 walks, in 258 at bats. O’Neill has started 2015 in Bakersfield, and should have a very good year statistically in the Cal League.

O’Neill is mature offensively compared to other players his age. He has an easy swing, keeping it level through the zone. Many young hitters have an uppercut, trying to force the ball out of the park. Scouts would like to see O’Neill hit the other way in 2015, as he often gets a bit pull happy, hurting his chances to hit for a high average. The son of a former Mr. Canada, O’Neill is very muscular and has huge power potential. If he can hit for a moderate average, he will be a middle of the order hitter in the Major Leagues.

In high school, O’Neill was a catcher, but he isn’t athletic enough to stick behind the plate. He does posses a strong arm, but his poor range limits him to left field. His defense is not great, and he will ultimately go as far as his defense will carry him.

###

Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner
Like us on Facebook: Seatown Mariners

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 350 other followers