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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 24, 2008 12:20 PM

Silver lining?

Posted by Geoff Baker

Yes, even after this morning's post, there is a silver lining in what's gone on with the Mariners so far. Even with an offense as bad as it's looked -- whether it's the flu, aging hitters, bad hitters, etc. -- the team is still a .500 club. So, to answer what Jeff seemed to be asking in the last thread, no, what many folks were advocating in the off-season would not have automatically made this a better club. Bring in a hitter at the expense of upgrading the starting rotation? That was what many were calling for, if not Jeff in particular. Let's see, had the club kept Adam Jones in right field, it would now have a .632 OPS hitter playing that spot rather than Brad Wilkerson. Net gain there, despite Jones being slightly "better'' if you can call it that, would be about zilch. This offense is to the point where one big bat isn't going to make much of a difference. The team needs some of its existing bats to get going. It also has the option of interchanging Wladimir Balentien and Jeff Clement with some existing hitters if things don't improve.

This offense doesn't have to be night and day better than it is right now. Just more consistent. Too many games, as one of you noted, where the team scores four runs or less. Even with standout pitching, it's tough to always hold opponents to three runs or fewer. Add another run per game, though, and the one-run wins should start to pile up in Seattle's favor.

I shudder to think of where this team would be without Carlos Silva. Even Erik Bedard, when he's pitched, has seen his team go 2-0. He's offered up a pair of "quality starts". That's six "quality starts'' between Bedard and Silva. The M's are 5-1 in those games. So yes, the upgraded pitching has made a difference. Throw this offense in with last year's starting rotation and the team is probably more like 8-14. We knew coming in that the offense was going to be a challenge. Seattle didn't exactly light things up last season. Heading in, the goal was to try to maintain that offensive output while reaping gains on the pitching side. So far, the mediocre defense on this club hasn't harmed as badly as some had expected. The M's are fine when it comes to runs allowed and much of what has been scored on Seattle has come via an injury-riddled bullpen.

It's a lot easier to plug in a hitter or two to provide satisfactory offense than it is to go out and find a starting pitcher or two that will give you a rotation among the league's finest. Seattle starters have delivered the most innings in the American League and the second-best ERA. Overall, the M's have the fourth-best ERA in the league even with the bullpen's struggles.

The mound isn't the problem. Pitching is the toughest thing for a team to improve in today's tight marketplace and the M's have improved. It's at the plate where the fixes are needed, as we mentioned this morning. But bringing in an added bat -- at the expense of those pitching fixes -- this winter would not have made the team better. It would probably be worse. This is a .500 team, even without Bedard -- supposedly the biggest pitching acquisition -- being 100 percent just yet. Even with an attrocious offensive start by two thirds of the lineup. Even with the slew of injuries. In other words, the pitching is so good, it's bought this team time...plenty of time...to figure out how to correct its shortcomings. Not saying it's going to be an easy fix. But it's a lot easier than having to go out and find a No. 1 and No. 3 starting pitcher.

Remember, this team went 10-10 in its opening month last year and went on to win 88 games. It's time to get cracking on some solutions, but the 11-11 start has negated the need to panic just yet, soft opening schedule or not.


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