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Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.

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April 15, 2008 9:48 AM

Offensive showing

Posted by Geoff Baker

Want to begin today in a better mood? Looks like Jeff Weaver finally found work. And no, it's not with the Mariners! An incentive-laden deal with the Brewers. See? I told you your mood would pick up.

That's about as good as it gets, I'm afraid. Yes, there is a double-entendre to the headline above. Two weeks into the season and the Mariners are a 6-8 club largely because of the inconsistency we saw from the bats last night in that loss to the Royals. I'm tempted to say it was just a case of a hot pitcher shutting Seattle down. It happens. Thing is, it seems to happen to the M's a lot. Happened against Joe Saunders the day before, not to mention Edwin Jackson last week. For all that talk of throwing in the towel by the manager that dominated some of the blog discussion here yesterday, the Seattle players themselves don't inspire a whole lot of confidence in regards to their ability to come back when they fall behind by multiple runs.

In fact, the M's haven't won a game this season in which they've trailed by two or more. They are now 0-5 in that regard. For me, that's a worrisome trend. And when that happens, the paper trail usually leads us back to the offense.

For all of the good things to be said about Seattle's starting pitching so far, the bats have not followed suit. The M's have already produced eight "quality starts" (at least six innings pitched, three earned runs or less allowed) 14 games into the season. Last year, it took them 20 games to reach that total. Seattle starters are also second in the AL with 88 innings pitched (a third of an inning behind the Los Angeles Angels) and third in the league with a 3.58 earned run average.

That's quality pitching.

Offensively, things don't look all that bad cumulatively. Seattle sits fifth of 14 teams with 62 runs scored. Scoring runs and not allowing them is all that matters, right Pythagorean fans? Well, over 162 games it does tend to balance out the quirks a little better than after only 14 games. But don't be fooled. Not all 4.4 runs per game starts are created equally. In fact, take away the 16 runs put up by the M's the first two games of the Angels series, and Seattle is averaging just 3.8 runs per contest over its other dozen games. Seattle's on-base percentage is down to ninth in the league. Batting average is only 11th.

On the other hand, the M's have the league's second-highest walk total and by far the best walks-to-strikeouts ratio.

So, what does that tell us? The walks and low strikeout numbers tell us the M's are being more selective at the plate. But the poor average and on-base percentage tells us the M's aren't doing enough with the hittable pitches they do get as a result of having worked counts in their favor.

That's my split-second analysis of what is admittedly a very small sample size worth of data.

Culprits? We've already named several and Jose Vidro, Brad Wilkerson and Kenji Johjima remain at the forefront. But the truth is, Ichiro could be doing a lot more than he's done so far. A .684 OPS is not what you need out of your leadoff hitter. Ichiro is not getting on base the way he traditionally does. When he does get on-base, there have been times where not enough is happening afterwards. Mariners manager John McLaren talked all winter about how he'd like to see Ichiro steal more. There have been a few situations already, including last night, where I'd have prefered to see Ichiro steal second base rather than wait for Jose Lopez to bunt him over, or execute a hit-and-run.

The M's as a team have only six stolen bases so far. They have been caught four times. That's a poor rate of success and not enough swiped bags overall. Not for a team that has this much trouble scoring runs. Seattle has upped its bunting prowess already over what it was doing last season. But the thing is, a bunt gives the other team a valuable out. There are certain situations where bunts are called for. But I remember one in Baltimore where Lopez laid it down with two on, none out in a tie game with two of the quickest guys on the team -- Ichiro and Yuniesky Betancourt -- on base. Seems like a waste of basepath skill right there. Ichiro has just one stolen base this season, Betancourt has none.

For all of the talk this winter about those two having to do more on the bases, they have come up short thus far. Especially for a team as inconsistent at scoring runs as the M's have been.

Guess what? It's early. I know, broken record time. And after seven years of watching Ichiro, knowing he's had his share of slow starts -- including last season -- I do not expect a sub.-700 OPS to last. But Vidro, Wilkerson and Johjima are not the only culprits on an offense that has been downright offensive at times. The M's are not going to slug their way to a title. The way you combat offensive inconsistency is by manufacturing runs through the smaller stuff, like getting runners over and grabbing extra bases.

There have been too many instances this year where the M's get runners on and do nothing with them. That part will have to change, or games will, in fact, seem over when Seattle falls behind 3-0 in the second or third inning. The good news? It's only been two weeks. Let's see whether any changes start to occur, beginning this afternoon against the Royals and John Bale. John Bale! There's a ghost from my Blue Jays past. Took him a long time, but seems like he's finally putting things together. No better time for the M's to start manufacturing those runs.

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