Saturday, April 10, 2010

Mariners: Home, sweet home: Mariners prep for rematch vs Oakland

By Yu Nakayama

While it's far too early to press the panic button following a four-game losing streak, the Seattle Mariners and their fans have to feel relieved after the team defeated the Texas Rangers 4-3 in dramatic fashion Saturday afternoon thanks to a three-run charge in the 9th.

Thanks to a three-run charge in the 9th inning, highlighted by a pinch-hit RBI single by Ken Griffey Jr., the Mariners were able to pounce on struggling Texas closer, Frank Francisco, and avoided starting the season 1-5.

To Continue...

Franklin Gutierrez had a stellar 9th inning, singling home the go-ahead run against Darren O'Day and then robbing Elvis Andrus of an extra-base hit in the bottom half of the inning with a spectacular leaping catch against the wall

On Sunday, the Mariners will close out their series in Arlington before returning to Safeco Field for their 2010 home-opener, officially unveiling their team to the city of Seattle in a rematch against the surprisingly surging Athletics. And while the season is still young, here are a few things to consider going forward after seeing the offense struggle early in the season:

1. Stick with a consistent lineup: It's fairly common for a manager to play the matchups and swap a righty here, a lefty there, depending on the pitcher the team faces day-to-day.

It's hard to imagine, though, guys like Gutierrez and Casey Kotchman can get comfortable if they are hitting 3rd one night, then drops down to 7th the next (Gutierrez has hit 3rd vs lefties, while Kotchman has hit in that position against righties).

Gutierrez has shown early in the season that he's capable of hitting 3rd on any given night, no matter the matchup. Once Wakamatsu finds a lineup he likes, it's possible that players will better adjust to their specific roles and provide more consistent production.

2. Don't panic about the table-setters: It was evident on the season-opener vs Oakland that when Ichiro and Chone Figgins get on base and apply pressure on the opposing pitcher and defense, the chances of the Mariners scoring runs increases tenfold.

Afterall, that was the plan when the Mariners acquired Figgins in the offseason: Get two of the best leadoff hitters in baseball to get hits, walks and then run, run, and run some more. The offense struggled in the recent four-game losing streak, during which Ichiro and Figgins went a combined 7/29 (.240 AVG), 1 run, 0 stolen bases.

It's a safe bet that those two will not end the season hitting .240 between the two of them. They'll get theirs, and when they do, the rest of the lineup needs to pull their weight. Which leads to the question...

3. What will the team get out of Milton Bradley?: Wakamatsu's decision to start the season with Bradley as the cleanup hitter and sticking with him is, logically speaking, the correct choice.

Granted Bradley has faced early struggles at the plate, not to mention the fact that he dished public beef against the Chicago media and, more recently, reacted to Rangers fans impolitely, to put it gently. But beyond Bradley, the Mariners don't have a presence in the lineup that can step up and be an effective cleanup hitter against both lefties and righties.

Bradley is only two seasons removed from All-Star numbers, and if he can get back to that level of play (or something close to it), he'll come up big as a run-producer in this lineup. The problem is, unlike Ichiro and Figgins, it's harder to predict that Bradley will eventually break out of his slump and provide big numbers for the Mariners because of his inconsistent health over the years, and of course, there always seems to be some kind of off-field baggage.

There's only so much that the Griffeys and Mike Sweeneys of the locker room can do here. If Bradley can't produce, then General Manager Jack Zduriencik will have to work his magic again during the season and find another bat that can.