The Kids Are Getting It Done
Posted by Jason A. Churchill on May 15, 2006
The Mariners head into their mid-week series at Oakland with a 17-22 record, but with a chance to make a move in the American League west.
Sounds either strange or odd to say that – or both – but it's as true as Bill Gates is rich.
Just 3 1/2 games back of first place Texas – yes, Texas – the M's can set themselves up for a very interesting eight-week stretch up to the all-star break with a strong finish to the current six-game road trip.
And they can thank the kids for that opportunity.
The M's are the third-youngest team in the majors, with an average age of 28, and the youngsters are producing, particularly in May.
Second baseman Jose Lopez has continued his strong start and he's slugging .469 through 39 games. Don't forget, half those games are at the Safe, death to right-handed bats.
Lopez, 22, is hitting .288 overall and a solid .271 at home. He's shredding the AL's pitching on the road, sporting a .560 slugging percentage away from the Safe.
The Venezuelan leads the team with a .410 average with runners in scoring position and a .313 average with runners in scoring position and two down. Talk about "two outs, so what?"
Lopez is the team's MVP through the first quarter of the season, and there really is no argument to be made. Just ask the Los Angeles Angels, against whom Lopez is hitting .414 with a .621 slugging.
For all of his defensive wizardry, shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt is doing just fine at the plate. Sure, he's drawn just one walk, but he's hitting a very respectable .260 with two home runs and 11 total extra-base hits.
Betancourt is also 5-for-7 on stolen-base attempts and has a .545 slugging percentage away from home. Mighty nice to have from the league's best defensive player.
After hitting .188 in April, center fielder Jeremy Reed is batting .333 in May with four runs batted in. Both of his homers came in the Angels' series, as did both of Betancourt's as the team smacked nine long balls in the three games in Heaven.
Reed has clearly made three major adjustments to his approach, one is visibly obvious in his batting stance.
1)He's adjusted where he sets his hands, also something worked on during ST.
But his hands were too far back, and too stiff, leaving Reed susceptible to a lot of pitches, particularly anything in on his hands and anything up.
He's also keeping his hands still instead of the constant rocking of the bat in his palms.
2) With his hands lower, Reed can look for a pitch middle-in and adjust to the outer half, even if it's a fastball. He drove a K-Rod fastball into right-center field in the ninth inning on Saturday. The pitch was a little bit up and away, but Reed was able to lay a good swing on it.
3) Reed is actually looking to drive the ball and adjustments No. 1 and 2 have helped him keep his swing level through the zone, even when he's put an aggressive swing on the pitch.
His walk totals may stray a bit low for now, but he's in attack mode and looking much more comfortable than he has in 12 months.
When Reed is producing, this team is pretty good, even without Beltre and Sexson up to par.
Kenji Johjima will be 30 next month but he's an inexperienced player in this league. He's a legitimate rookie.
But his steady performance at the plate is a breath of fresh air. He's not going to win any batting titles and he may never make an all-star team in the US, but he's fanned just 13 times in 119 at-bats and is second on the club with a .357 average with runners in scoring position.
His defense was inconsistent for the first three to four weeks but he's been steady of late.
The young bats aren't solely responsible for the M's recent display of solid play. Felix Hernandez tossed seven strong inning versus Tampa last Wednesday and will be a major key to the series in Oakland. The 20-year-old starts the first game on Tuesday with a chance to continue the momentum the M's have built in the last two series.
With the exception of the injured Julio Mateo, an inconsistent and possibly done Eddie Guardado, a misused prospect and a few arms that just don't belong, the M's bullpen has been sensational.
Well, basically that means three arms have gotten the job done.
J.J. Putz, Rafael Soriano and George Sherrill have combined to allow just 37 hits in 53 2/3 innings. The trio have fanned 68 and walked 23, holding opponents to a .198 average.
Putz has held right-handers to a .167 average while Soriano has held all hitters to a .208 average. The southpaw, Sherrill, has held left-handed hitters to a ridiculous .091 average.
Even Jake Woods, among those who don't belong in the bigs in the first place, has a .270 ERA in May and picked up a save versus his former club over the weekend.
The current bullpen, minus Guardado, has a total of eight seasons of major league experience among the five pitchers.
Putz and Soriano are all-star worthy.
Right-hander Emiliano Fruto was called up on Sunday and went the final 3 2/3 for the save in his first major league appearance and has the stuff to be a mainstay in the Mariners pen.
This team is starting to shape up a bit, even Adrian Beltre is starting to produce some. A few more tweaks and a Richie Sexson peak, and the M's may find themselves in serious business for the stretch drive.
And they can thank the kids for that opportunity.
Photo: Out Of The Park Images