At quarter-season mark, Seattle Mariners look capable of keeping Wedge on edge

Along with the Mariners' batting woes, Eric Wedge's beard is growing. It could be quite long by the end of the year.

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Brandon League has had troubles as the Seattle Mariners' closer recently.

Along with the Mariners' batting woes, Eric Wedge's beard is growing. It could be quite long by the end of the year.

It doesn’t require a sophisticated stats analyst to see what ails the 2011 Seattle Mariners. A pocket calculator and one functioning eyeball will suffice in assessing the M’s as they shuffle past the quarter pole of another dubious six-month, four-horse divisional derby.

The nagging question saddling them for several years hasn’t changed: When, fans wonder, will they trot out an offense that can be competitive in the American League West?

"Right now the Mariners need some base runners," game announcer Rick Rizzs mused Friday during the fourth inning of what later would be a date-appropriate Friday the 13th walk-off loss to Cleveland.

The key words, of course, were "right now" because the same could be said at virtually any moment of any game played by such an unproductive contingent.

As of Monday (May 16), the M's face a scheduling-fluke home stand featuring a pair of two-each games against Minnesota and the Los Angeles Angels. With weekend rain-outs in Cleveland, the M's still need another game before they hit the first-quarter mark. Perhaps "hit" is a poor choice of terms in any context for this club.

Seattle is last or near there in most offensive categories among the 14 American League teams. That they're among the first-tier clubs in pitching and defense means it’s pretty easy to see what’s missing.

Look at it this way: Each of the top-five AL teams in pitching as Sunday dawned had at least 20 wins and a winning record. Seattle, in the sixth spot for pitching, was 16-23.

One result: Eric Wedge is looking increasingly like Eric Edge, as in "on the." The new manager has been demonstrating waning patience with his mostly lackadaisical lineup, getting as bristly as his Hulk Hogan facial hair after several recent games when the hits just kept on not coming.

But who does the skipper blame? Is somebody forcing him to play Michael Saunders every day when the outfielder (19 hits in 111 at-bats) clearly belongs in Tacoma for a few months of remedial plate appearances?

Nor, amid the persistent lack of run-production, has it helped matters that nominal closer Brandon "Out of His" League infamously frittered away four games in six recent days.

Much was made of general manager Jack Zduriencik’s decision to bring up potential offensive help from Tacoma. But Carlos Peguero and Mike Wilson were just four for 28 (.143) after their week in the Bigs. Another pair of outfielders laboring in Tacoma show potential. Franklin Gutierrez, if he ever gets well from what could become the Guinness record for chronic belly aches, would seem to be the M’s everyday center fielder again.

The Rainiers’ Johan Limonta, despite being hitless in two recent games, was still batting .368 going into Sunday, which was better than Peguero’s and Wilson’s numbers when they were with the triple-A club. Limonta, though, had no home runs through 95 at-bats with Tacoma.

So the M’s big question remains the same: When is the franchise going to have consistent hitting to go along with better-than-average starting pitching?

Perhaps more pertinent: How much better could that pitching be if Felix Hernandez, Jason Vargas, Michael Pineda, Doug Fister, and Erik Bedard knew going into games that they wouldn’t have to throw shutouts in order to have reasonable chances to win? After 39 games, all but Bedard (4.78) had earned-run averages of 3.86 or lower but the starters' combined record was just 13-15.

Imagine pairing the M's starters with the run-producing prowess of one of the upper-level clubs. After 39 games, for example, Kansas City had crossed the plate 187 times; Seattle had scored just 138, second to last in the league.

One negative consequence about stats for baseball fans is that extrapolating numbers often predicts the near future. This is to say that a club performing a certain way through the first quarter of the season probably can’t be projected to do appreciably better the rest of the way.

It suggests that stat-savvy fans may as well put away their pocket calculators and resign themselves to a 66-96 record at season's end. By then, if he's still around, Eric Wedge's facial bristle may have grown to something resembling that of Yosemite Sam, perhaps with a demeanor to match.


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