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Are the Mariners on a Rising Tide?

By T.O. Whenham - www.docsports.com
6/24/06

Remember when the Seattle Mariners used to actually be a good team? It seems like it was a long time ago, so I understand if the memory is hazy. They've been depressingly poor the last few seasons. They still aren't particularly good, but at least they are finally showing some signs of life. But is it a real improvement or just a fluky run which has seen them win five of six and move dangerously close to .500 (which means they are dangerously close to contending in the AL West)?

At 36-38 the Mariners are one of those maddening teams that are neither good enough nor bad enough, and certainly not consistent enough, to make a bettor any money. The one bright spot has been the over/under, though - they've gone over 41 times in 72 tries (a 57% clip). Only the Dodgers and Baltimore have gone over more. If the team can put some wins together, though, and play to the potential of their lineup, they could provide some good value and finally make us some money. But can they actually start to win? Here are six arguments why they can and, for balance, five reasons they can't:

Why they can contend

1. The AL West - There is not a team in their division that doesn't have major holes. Oakland needs a bat or two and pitching. Texas has needed pitching since Nolan Ryan retired. Anaheim just needs to forget this season ever happened and try again next year. The Mariners are four games out, but there is no reason that they can't close that gap if they get it on track, especially if the A's decide to trade Barry Zito.

2. Ichiro is amazing - He had a slow start in April (well, .287 is slow for him anyway), but he has been on fire since. He hit .371 in May and is at .440 for June so far. He has been here long enough that you would think pitchers know how to throw to him, but it certainly appears not.

3. King Felix is starting to deal - You can forgive a guy who is only 20 when he has a terrible start to the season, but management must have had nightmares as their super-stud phenom looked decidedly average his first several starts. However he's turned it around lately, winning five of seven starts including a four-game winning streak. The thing I love about him, despite a pedestrian 7-7 record and besides his incredibly nasty stuff, is that he has 14 decisions in 15 starts. A guy who figures in that many games is on the right track in my book.

4. Adrian Beltre may actually be alive - Beltre didn't earn his money last year (.255, 19, 87) and he isn't setting the world on fire so far this season, either (.250, 7, 31). The last few weeks have finally reminded us why the Mariners decided to grossly overpay him. He is batting .440 with two homers, seven RBIs and a sick 1.300 OPS in his last six games.

5. Jamie Moyer is a freak - No one who is as old as Moyer (43) and throws softer than some softball players should be able to survive the major leagues, never mind pitch as well the last few years as he has in his entire career. His record isn't great (4-6), but he's consistent, his 3.58 ERA leads the team, and he eats innings. He's stable and cool enough to keep the staff, such as it is, in line and performing.

6. They probably won't be sellers - For the first time in a while the team may not dump players at the deadline. They've given away some good ones (how much do you think they would love to have Freddy Garcia right now?), but the fans likely won't stand another purge. Without a sell-off they stand a better chance of competing late into the season.

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Why they are done

1. Bad bats - Raul Ibanez (.286, 14, 57) is a bright spot and Beltre has had a good couple of weeks, but Richie Sexson's .293 OBP wouldn't even be a great batting average. Carl Everett (.246, 9, 28) doesn't justify his annoying attitude and the team is last in the league in walks and near the bottom in power stats. They have guys who can swing, but they need to start swinging if they want to succeed. Ichiro and his singles can only do so much without help.

2. Pitching depth - Hernandez is the future and Moyer is solid, but Jerrod Washburn (4-8) is sketchy and Joel Pineiro is, well, Joel Pineiro. Gil Meche (7-4) has been the bright spot, but he isn't a staff ace by any definition.

3. Can't beat good teams - The team is an impressive 19-10 against teams with a losing record, but a truly awful 6-22 against teams at or near first place. That includes a pathetic 1-9 mark against Oakland. Those numbers are beautiful when it comes to exploiting them as a bettor, but there aren't enough bad teams to pick on to get into the playoffs. They need to start playing good teams like they are a good team themselves.

4. Can't win close games - In games decided by one run the team is just 1-7. They have been better since Joel Putz (nominated for the most unfortunate last name in baseball) has become an acceptable closer, but they need to win the tight ones before we take them seriously.

5. They're not in the National League - Up until they lost to the Dodgers yesterday, the Mariners, at 8-0, were the only undefeated team in interleague play. Is it too late to petition Bud Selig for a league change this season?

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