Pressing the Panic Button on the 2011 Mariners

Okay, so it’s safe to say that the Mariners aren’t trying to win this year. There was some hope that everything would fall just right and they’d make a run at the division. We all knew it wasn’t likely though. They would at least be competitive until June, right? Well, here we are on April 21st, watching a team that will only be competing for the top pick in next year’s draft. It’s gotten so bad that Wednesday’s series finale against the Tigers gave us a Mariners lineup full of players that shouldn’t have even started in spring training.

They can't even celebrate properly.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Mariners. They just don’t like to make it easy. The one good thing we can take away from the rest of the season is that the Mariners are young. This year is about developing those young players and letting them get some playing time. It’s why Carlos Peguero got the start yesterday. Did I expect him to hit a home run on his first at-bat? Well, yeah, I did. He didn’t and while it would have been awesome, I wasn’t surprised. There is a reason why Wedge let him bat with 2 outs in the bottom of the ninth. With the Mariners down by one with a runner on second, they needed something from Peguero. A home run would have been nice (we know he’s capable of it) but anything that would have got Saunders around to score would have been nice. This was his first game in the majors. This was his fourth time at bat. He struck out. That’s what this year is about. Letting the young guys figure out the game. Sometimes they’ll fail. Okay, most of the time they’ll fail. But one day, they won’t. One day, Peguero will hit that home run.

On the topic of the Mariners’ young stars, there are a few are doing everything we hoped. I have to start with my favorite Mariner, Justin Smoak. He has actually exceeded my expectations. Most of that is on me though. I didn’t come in expecting Pujolsian type numbers from him. I wanted to see him get on base, not strike out and hit a couple home runs. For the most part, that’s what he’s done. The power hasn’t been there yet as he only has two home runs. He has been hitting the ball consistently and , other than Ichiro, he’s the guy that I want at the plate with runners in scoring position at the end of a game. Sure, he’ll strikeout occasionally but he’s just about to turn that corner and become something big.

Michael Saunders is another young player that is pleasantly surprising us. A month ago, the future wasn’t looking great for Saunders. He was on the verge of being sent back down to Triple-A to continue to work on his swing. His problem? He couldn’t hit outside pitches. Give him a pitch on the inside and he’s got the power potential to send the ball out of the park. Pitchers know this and attack the outside of the plate and he couldn’t handle it. However, due to Gutierrez continued stomach issues, Saunders was needed to help Ryan Langerhans cover center field while waiting for Guti’s return.

Maybe now Saunders can shave his beard.

Saunders has now started seven of the M’s last nine games and seems to be figuring out his swing. His hitting is steadily improving; culminating in yesterday’s at-bat against Jose Valverde in the bottom of the ninth. After falling behind 0-2, Saunders fought back, taking three straight fastballs that were a bit too far outside. With a full count, what do you think Valverde would turn to? If you guessed an outside fastball, you’d be correct. This time, Saunders sent it down the line on the opposite side of the field for a double. That is what we want to see from Saunders. His timing couldn’t have been better as I’m not counting on Gutierrez to return this season.

Michael Pineda. Yes, I said he’s one of the Mariners to watch this year but I was still a little shocked that he made the opening day roster. Okay, more upset than shocked. I thought it would be more beneficial to have him start in Triple-A and then bring him up around mid-season. I was wrong. I was way wrong. Pineda has been a beast. It’s not like his starts have been easy either. He got his first start against the Texas Rangers, the team that will win the AL West. His only troubles came against left-handed hitters, which we knew would happen, considering he only has a fastball and a slider (he’s working on that changeup). Overall, he was still pretty good He made it through 6 innings, giving up three runs on five hits and striking out four. Since then, he’s put together back-to-back quality starts against the Blue Jays and Royals. At first, I liked the Baby Felix nickname for him. Now, I’ve decided we need something else. There’s nothing “Baby” about Pineda. Remember playing little league and there was always that one kid that was a little bigger than everyone else and was way more talented? Yeah, that’s Pineda. Just wait until he figures that out.

It's okay to be scared of him. The Rangers, Blue Jays and Royals already are.

So keep watching. We haven’t even seen Ackley yet. Learn to love the young guys, soon you’ll feel about them the way you feel about Felix and Ichiro. There’s always next year.

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