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.
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):
|Endy Chavez||L||RF||35||.271||.286||.343||2|| 0
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.
|FRI 7:10 pm||Aaron Harang||5.08||4.13||90.2||.296||7.4||1.4||0.7|
|SAT 4:10 pm||Jeremy Bonderman||4.05||5.16||90.6||.257||3.2||3.2||-0.1|
|SUN 1:10 pm||Joe Saunders (L)||4.74||4.15||89.3||.306||4.8||2.8||0.1|
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.
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.]