The Seattle Mariners enter the Merry Month a couple of games up on the division competition after a 13-9 April. This is greatness compared with what detractors imagined a month ago. A 9-13 mark might have made partisans swoon. But the club also might have approached a 22-0 month with the services of a pair of players management let go for various reasons. Former M'ês outfielders Adam Jones (Baltimore) and Raul Ibanez (Philadelphia) start May with .359 batting averages while the five OF guys for Seattle are just .269.
But the sense among baseball experts (there are thousands, perhaps millions, in Seattle alone) is that M'ês hitting is about to come around. Adrian Beltre busted out of his month-long slump Wednesday (April 29). His four-hit tear wasn'êt quite enough to keep the team from dropping the finale with Chicago to notch a 3-3 road trip. But it did help prop up the optimism engendered the day before when first-baseman Russell Branyan went five-for-five. Yuniesky Betancourt had four-hit performance (including a home run and five runs batted in). It was a large part of what was Seattle'ês best demonstration of atotal-game blow-out this year. The M'ês, winning 9-1 in wintry weather, had 19 hits while Felix Hernandez gave up just four, striking out nine.
The next five games give the M'ês a chance to distance themselves from what have proven to be their best division rivals so far. Three with Oakland followed by a pair with Texas take Seattle through Cinco de Mayo before the club wanders off for eight more away games. An odd five-game home-stand gives every Seattle starter a chance to show up well before the home crowd.
Management no doubt would be happier winning five times by 10-9 slugfests instead of 2-1 pitchers'ê duels. This is because the only reliable hit-for-average guy on the home roster is Ichiro, he of the lifetime .331 average (he was .306 during an injury-abbreviated April). Every other position player has been susceptible to extended slumps and all of them would benefit from the confidence that comes with raising their offensive numbers above their career averages.
None would benefit more from a hitting barrage than Franklin Gutierrez, the gifted defensive center-fielder whose two hits April 29 also were somewhat headline-worthy. He'ês still about 20 points below his career batting average. If he can give the club run-producing singles at a .260 clip he'êll more than justify the trade that brought him here from Cleveland via the three-team trade that sent J.J. Putz to the New York Mets.
As for Putz, he hasn'êt been missed nearly as much as would have been the case had Brandon Morrow been a Mariners bust at closer. But Morrow'ês numbers so far are nearly identical to those of Putz except that the latter, through April 29, gave up eight hits in 11 innings while Morrow yielded just two hits in six and two-thirds.
Fans can but hope Morrow has something to salvage in the May opener with Carlos Silva as the starter. Silva's ineptness so far could turn a merry May Day into a dreary one. The last thing fans want to see is a slow, steady slide by the locals such that, by mid-season, the main attraction in Seattle will be tuning in to see Ibanez and Jones play against each other in the All-Star game.