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Series Preview: The Seattle Mariners

The Cincinnati Reds and Seattle Mariners have played against one another only nine times, so Reds fans may be a bit unfamiliar with their weekend foe.

Ichiro doesn’t play for them. Neither does Ken Griffey Jr. for that matter. The Mariners (37-48) are in fourth place in the AL West and 12.5 games behind the Oakland A’s. Like the Reds, they have had two winning seasons in the past ten years or so. In contrast to the Reds, their organization has been steadily decreasing team payroll over the past five years, from $118 million in 2008 (a season in which they lost 101 games) to $84 million in 2013.

Eric Wedge, who Reds’ fans might remember as the manager of Cleveland from 2003-2009, is now in his third season leading Seattle. Wedge had a losing record in Cleveland overall, but did guide them to the division championship in 2007 when he was named AL Manager of the Year. A disciple of the Dusty Baker (extremely old) School of Managing, Wedge’s Mariners have had a losing record all three years and been in the bottom third of the league in runs scored and on-base-percentage.

The Reds have a historical grievance to settle with Seattle, namely beginning to reverse their 1-8 all-time record against the M’s. In 2013, the Reds are 29-14 at home while the Mariners are 16-26 on the road. The Mariners may feel like they’re in Seattle this weekend however, considering all the rain in the weather forecast.

Seattle arrives to the Queen City after an impressive series win against Texas in Arlington. Yet, prior to that they lost series at home to the Pittsburgh Pirates and, gulp, the Chicago Cubs. As you know, the Redlegs are coming off a three-game sweep of the San Francisco Giants and we’re ignoring any games they may have played on the road immediately prior to that.

SEATTLE HITTING

The only thing that prevents the Mariners’ line-up from being the worst in the American League is Bud Selig’s decision to move the Houston AAstros to the AL West. The Mariners are 14th in batting average (.238), 14th in runs scored, 13th in stolen bases, 14th worst in strikeouts, 12th in OBP (.303), 11th in base running and 14th in team defense. It’s an offense that often appears as idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean.

On the one hand, the Mariners’ infield is full of talented prospects. Nick Franklin (22), Kyle Seager (25), Brad Miller (23) and Mike Zunino (22) are all young players looking to break through. The Mariners outfield, by contrast, is replete with aging veterans who have no long term future with the club. Due to injuries to Michael Sanders (hand), Franklin Gutierrez (hamstring) and Michael Morse (quad), not only have the old guys been forced into more playing time, but former 2B prospect, Dustin Ackley has been pressed into service playing CF. Saunders may return to the outfield this weekend, likely in center.

Possible lineup (stats through Wednesday):

Player Bats Pos Age AVG OBP SLG HR SB oWAR dWAR
Endy Chavez L RF 35  .271  .286  .343  2  0
0.1  -0.6
Nick Franklin S 2B 22  .287  .351  .459  4  5 1.2  0.2
Raul Ibanez L LF 41  .246  .296  .547  20  0 1.4  -1.2
Kendrys Morales S 1B 30  .282  .340  .455  11  0 1.7  -0.6
Kyle Seager L 3B 25  .276  .335  .463  12  3 2.5  0.1
Dustin Ackley L CF 25  .198  .258  .244  1  1 -0.2  0.1
Mike Zunino R C 22  .226  .255  .321  1  0  0.0  0.1
Brad Miller L SS 23  .158  .238  .263  0  2 0.1  0.1

If Endy Chavez played shortstop, he’d almost certainly be on the Reds’ roster. His OBP is .286 and at age 35 he’s veterany. Chavez has a walk-rate of 2.3%. Mat Latos has a walk-rate of 2.4%. Endy Chavez walked exactly once in April, and that was more than he walked in May. Somehow, the stupid Cubs managed to walk him twice in a single game last Thursday.

And Endy Chavez, a dead albatross about the neck of the lineup, astonishingly bats leadoff for Eric Wedge. He’d, of course, bat second for the Reds.

You must be thinking that Chavez compensates for his Taveras-like OBP with a huge, chaos-creating base stealing threat. Nope, Chavez has zero stolen bases. None. I was so skeptical of the plausibility of that number, I actually double-checked FanGraphs at Baseball-Reference.

Like Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s protagonist, Raul Ibanez has cheated retirement. He doesn’t hit or walk much, strikes out in a quarter of his at bats, and plays a brutal left field. But Ibanez does lead his team in home runs and RBI and his comeback at age 41 is undeniably a heart-warming story. So instead of trading their own ancient Mariner for future value, Seattle will probably make the mistake of signing Ibanez to an extension. Money, money every where, but not a dollar to spend.

It will be interesting to see what the Mariners do with their lineup this weekend to adjust for the absence of a DH. In previous games this year at NL parks, Kendrys Morales played 1B and Justin Smoak was the odd man out. But Smoak has been hot (.310/.408/548) since his return from the DL on June 18, going 6 for 13 in the Rangers series.

Dustin Ackley was called up to play second base in mid-2011, draped in standard-issue “can’t miss” hype. And for half a season, Ackley hit. Then he struggled in 2012. Then he was sent to the minors in 2013. Ackley is back with the major league club now, but may have been passed up by the next second base big thing, Nick Franklin. Franklin has been impressive in his one month on the team, amassing the fourth highest oWAR on the club. His success at the plate stems from the lowest K% on the team and strong plate discipline.

Mike Zunino was selected as the third overall pick in the 2012 amateur draft out of the University of Florida. The rookie catcher rocketed through the Mariners’ farm system, hitting with power at each stop, and was called up (some say rushed) in early June. He’s also well regarded for his throwing arm and defensive skills. Zunino was rated the 17th best prospect in the league by Baseball America and the top catcher on that list. Definitely one to watch during the series.

SEATTLE STARTING PITCHING

When it comes to starting pitching for the Mariners, it’s bliss or woe.

In King Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, the Mariners may have the best one-two punch in the American League. Hernandez is a perennial Cy Young Award candidate (won it in 2010) and Iwakuma isn’t far behind this year. Fortunately, neither will pitch in this series. Sweet. Only 17 of the Mariners 37 wins have come this year in games not started by Hernandez or Iwakuma.

The postponement of the final game of the Reds-Giants series means the Reds will slide their pitching rotation back a day, so Homer Vander Bailey will pitch next Monday in Milwaukee.

Start Time Pitcher ERA FIP FBV BABIP K/9 BB/9 WAR
FRI 7:10 pm Aaron Harang 5.08 4.13 90.2 .296 7.4 1.4 0.7
Mike Leake 2.52 3.52 90.1 .274 5.8 1.8 1.7
SAT 4:10 pm Jeremy Bonderman 4.05 5.16 90.6 .257 3.2 3.2 -0.1
Mat Latos 3.03 2.92 92.1 .305 8.9 2.4 2.7
SUN 1:10 pm Joe Saunders (L) 4.74 4.15 89.3 .306 4.8 2.8 0.1
Bronson Arroyo 3.50 4.27 87.4 .265 4.9 1.7 0.8

Aaron Harang had great seasons for the Reds and was definitely a fan favorite. He won 16 games for some pretty sorry teams in 2006 and 2007. Eventually, his reckless use by Dusty Baker (San Diego and the 2-hour rain delay) and GABP’s dimensions wore him down. After he left Cincinnati, Harang pitched well for the Padres and Dodgers in 2011 and 2012. For the Mariners, his FIP is in line with the previous two seasons, although he is 0-4 with a 6.75 ERA on the road. Harang’s still stingy as ever with walks. This will be tall right-hander’s third career start against his old club, with a 2-0 record and 1.38 ERA in the first two. But tonight will be the first time he’ll be reunited with those familiar, tight outfield fences.

Jeremy Bonderman (yes, that Jeremy Bonderman) is attempting a comeback after two years out of baseball with arm issues, although his last good season (maybe his only good season) was in 2006 for the Tigers. Bonderman showed enough in spring training to make the Mariners’ AAA club. He’s since started six games in the majors and pitched well in four of them. But feel-good stories only go so far, especially when the other team gets paid (millions) to play, too. Bonderman’s 3.2 K/9 is far and away the lowest among major league pitchers with at least 30 innings and K/9 = BB/9 suggests a fate as horrible as the curse in a dead man’s eye.

Joe Saunders is a garden-variety lefty starter. And that’s a garden like your lazy neighbor’s, not Versailles. His strike-out rate is low, low, low; his walk-rate is nothing special; and he gives up a lot of hits. “Safeco Joe” also has a dramatic home/away split and Sunday he’ll be pitching far from the beautiful vista of Puget Sound. Then again, Saunders has recorded six quality starts in his last seven appearances, so who knows? He’s 0-2 with a 6.04 ERA in four starts against the Reds.

SEATTLE BULLPEN

The bullpen was expected to be a strength for the Mariners in 2013. Closer Tom Wilhelmsen, who had an excellent 2012, returned to the pen, along with a bevy of youthful power arms like Carter Capps (22) and Stephen Pryor (23).

Then the M’s bullpen began to sink like lead into the sea. On April 15, Pryor, the Mariners’ closer-of-the-future was sidelined with a torn side muscle. Blake Beavan was sent to AAA. Then, after converting his first eleven save opportunities, Wilhelmsen suddenly became ineffective, blowing five of his next ten. His K/9 (6.6) and BB/9 (4.2) are far from standard successful closer numbers. Think Logan Ondrusek minus two inches.

For a time, Wilhelmsen was replaced by rookie Yoervis Medina (24) and most-definitely-not-a-rookie, Oliver Perez (yes, that Oliver Perez), each of whom was assigned to pitch the ninth, depending on matchup. Wilhelmsen did record a save Wednesday night. So the situation is a bit unsettled.

In terms of lefty-on-lefty action, the Mariners have Perez (31) and Charlie Furbush (27).

[Thanks! to my friend and loyal Mariners' fan Adam Symonds, who suggested content and offered stats for this post.]

30 thoughts on “Series Preview: The Seattle Mariners

  1. Harang’s walk rate this year is 1.4 per 9, that’s absurdly low. How about 3 or 4 bombs tonight?

  2. Nice to hear Ludwick at 85% already. Man, if we could get him back by August 1st along with our relievers, we’ll give ourselves a great chance to win this division. Until then, we gotta take care of business against teams we know we should beat.

    2 out of 3 is a must, a sweep would be sweeter.

    • @Sultan of Swaff: The Reds net series with the Cardinals is August 1. I’d like to see Ludwick back in the Reds lineup a few days before that. It’s possible, from what Ryan has said.

  3. With all those LH bats in the lineup, why not give Bronson the extra day off and pitch Homer on regular rest Sunday? With 5 LH and two switch hitters, even if they’re weak that’s a lot for Bronson to deal with. Plus, against this lineup Homer would have a decent shot at pitching immortality :-)

  4. The drainage at GABP will get a real test this weekend. Somehow, these 3 games need to be played this weekend, but the weather does not look promising.

    I hope and expect a warm reception for Harang by the fans at GABP. He is a top shelf individual and was a solid member of the Reds for several tough seasons. That won’t earn him any advantage on the mound and I expect the Reds hitters to simply tee off this weekend against all 3 pitchers, weather permitting.

    Missing Hernandez and Iwakuma is huge and let’s hope the Reds hitters take advantage of the opportunity. I would be very hesitant to play Heisey out in LF this weekend with the wet track, but that’s Dusty’s call.

    Leading into the all star break:

    Reds play the Mariners (3), Brewers (3) & Braves (4)
    Birds play the Marlins (3), Astros (2) & Cubs (4)
    Bucos play the Cubs (3), A’s (3) & Mets (3)

    The Birds may be in trouble if they can’t reverse their skid in their next 9 games before the break. The Reds have an opportunity to make a statement in their next 10 games.

    • @Shchi Cossack:

      You are so right again. After the All Star game it doesn’t get any easier. Reds open with 3 vs. Pit and then that 10-game west coast road trip. The good thing is, it gets a little harder for the Cards and Buccos too.
      Post AS game schedule:
      Reds–35 games vs. NLC teams; Pit(9), StL(10), Mil(10), ChiC(6), SF(3), LAD(7), SD(6), Oak(2), Ari(4), Rox(3), Hou(3), NYM(3).

      Cards–42 games vs. NLC; Pit(14), Cin(10), Mil(9), ChiC(9), Phi(3), Atl(7), LAD(4), Sea(3), Rox(4), Was(3).

      Pit–36 games vs. NLC; StL(14), Cin(9), Mil(6), ChiC(7), Was(4), Mia(6), Rox(6), Ari(3), SD(7), SF(4), Tex(3).

      It gives you an idea who each team still has to play, just not where.
      One note I did take down, the Cards, from Aug. 22 thru Sept. 8 play 18 consecutive games vs. the Reds(7), Pit(6), and Atl (4).
      I think the Reds have a little easier schedule over Pit, then StL.
      The other good thing is, the Reds and Pirates play 6 times during the last 9 games of the season.
      It could be a very wild and exciting pennant race this year, right down to those last couple of days.

    • @Shchi Cossack: The Reds have an important opportunity to make a run here, counting the 3 wins vs. the Giants. The schedule after the All Star break: a series at home vs. the Pirates, and then the dreaded 9 game West coast road trip.

      Yes the NL West stinks this year, but it doesn’t matter. The Dodgers are loaded and hot. The Padres have been a winning team after a terrible start. The Giants are always tough at home, the rowdiest fans in baseball (more so than Philly and NY).

      If you’re still not convinced, think of this: 3 large parks and jet lagged Reds playing like they recently did against Oakland.

    • @Shchi Cossack: When my youngest daughter was 9 or 10, we made the trek to Fenway to see the Reds-Sox interleague game. She was an Aaron Harang fan (me, too) and brought a ball, hoping for autographs. Sure enough, he came out by the dugout and was signing and chatting (to a guy with a Cubs hat: “you’ve got to be kidding!”). My daughter got the ball to him through the large crowd and he signed, and then made sure it got back to her. Nice guy. Class act.

  5. I will never be able to look at Aaron Harang the same after seeing him called the Harangatang here a few years ago. I can’t look at him without giggling anymore. Other than that, hopefully his reception is warm. He had some good years with us.

  6. I believe I agree that if the Birds can’t get even with or ahead of the Bucs and add a game or to on the Reds by the the break they will have missed a big opportunity. However I do not rule out the possibility thatg they could get white hot again after the break.

    As I’ve said before, I think it is big all the way around that the Bucs and Birds have 14 games head up after the break and should work to the reds favor that they have 10 with the Brew Crew over the same span.

    • @OhioJim: The Reds still have to beat the Brewers. I remember back in 1999, if the Reds could have beaten a poor Brewers team 2 out of 3 in that final series, there would have been no 1-game playoff. The Reds would have been in the playoffs and who knows what would have happened? The Reds were 6-6 on the season against that Brewers club.

      Interesting to note, the Reds were 29-27 against >=.500 teams that season including:

      8-1 against Arizona (who won 100 games in 1999)
      but 1-8 against Atlanta who were considered the best team in baseball that year (103-59)

      5-5 vs the Mets
      9-4 against the Astros

      So, the Reds were 23-18 against NL playoff teams that season.

      • @LWBlogger: Horrible memory of the last weekend of 1999. An arm-tired Scott Williamson blowing the Friday nite game was a dagger. And then Davey Johnson, Dodger manager, lies down to let the Astros win the last 2, sending home Gary Sheffield and Kevin Brown (when those two were in their prime).

  7. I expect the crowd will be very happy to see Harang tonight. This town absolutely loved Aaron when he was here. I remember the last day he pitched. There were a lot of grown men on this blog blubbering, myself included.

    • @TC: Yeah, a good Red and a good guy. Interacted briefly with him in Kroger’s parking lot of all places. He was busy and still very nice to me and my daughter.

  8. Because it makes too much sense. Not only would Bronson get to avoid all those lefties, Homer would also get to miss Milwaukee. Homer is atrocious against Milwaukee. Bronson is quite good against Milwaukee.

  9. Is it traitorous to my lifelong favorite team if I want Harang to pitch seven scoreless before being pulled so the Reds can tee off on the bullpen and win this game? If so, I’m fine with being a traitor.

    I appreciate what the man gave to the organization when little else was going right. There’s a pretty big part of me that would hate for him to have a bad outing in front of the GABP crowd.

    With that said: Go, Reds, go!

  10. Obviously I want the Reds to win every game, but I really want Harang to have a good outing. If he got creamed I would feel really crummy.

  11. I would love to go to this one. Harang was a bright spot on some really bad Reds teams. I can remember him being traded to the Reds when not much was expected. I think it was him and Joe Valentine for half a season of Jose Guillen. I’m a huge Harang fan; it is a shame that he started pitching poorly around the time the Reds actually got good.

    Harang has been inconsistent this year but has had a couple of really good outings.

  12. I hope Harang gets a warn reception as well. I think he will, hhe’s a classy guy and was a good man in the rotation for the Reds during the dark years. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear him get a standing ovation today, when he is announced as the starter, and if he has a good outing tonight, when he is finally pulled for the bullpen.

  13. I will be there tonight. Looking forward to Harang pitching, and hopefully the Reds can take advantage of him.

    I hope it doesn’t get rained out, but the sky is blue across the river in KY, so I hope it holds.

  14. Call me mean or unsentimental, but I want the Reds to thump Harang just as I would any other pitcher. He’s already had two good games vs the Reds (yes, I know, not at GABP), but fans can cheer him and the Reds can whoop him. They are not exclusive.

  15. If Marshall can avoid any setbacks, his return after the all star break looks promising.

    Ludwick’s encouraging progress toward recovery has already been discussed, but the encouraging aspect of his recovery is the extended rehab assignment. As much as the Reds need Ludwick back in the lineup, they need a productive Ludwick.

    Brox and Cueto should not be ready to return until August at the earliest, but a healthy Marshall returning to the bullpen soon would be a huge lift for the team.

    I hesitate to even mention the next item, but here’s a real wild card in the mix. Masset has progressed to throwing bullpen sessions. What an absolute windfall for the Reds if they could get a healthy, dominant Masset back for the stretch run to and through the playoffs. Dare we even hope?

    The optimist in me, looks at the injury list and sees a possibility that it could be barren come playoff time, with everyone healthy. The pessimist in me…well, let’s hold off on that thought and look forward to the series with the Mariners.

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