For three good reasons, “second” lately seems to be the first word out of the mouths of many connected with Seattle Mariners baseball.
Reason one is the pending arrival of Dustin Ackley, the prized high draft pick from 2009 and presumed M’s second-base fixture after two years climbing through the minors. Ackley’s pair of hits in a Wednesday game helped triple-A Tacoma win 11-4. If it proves to have been Ackley’s last stint in the minors, it leaves him with a 2011 AAA batting average of .303.
Reason two for the emphasis on “second” was a conspicuous inanimate object near the center of Safeco Field. Wednesday (June 15), during a scoreless game, Carlos Peguero’s seventh-inning two-out bouncer up the middle probably would’ve meant a ground-out and “inning over” had it not been for a freak carom off the keystone-corner bag. The luck allowed two runs to score, leading to a 3-1 M’s win and ... .
Reason three: The Mariners are still in second place in the American League West, just a game behind Texas with the Philadelphia Phillies in town for three during the weekend after an off day Thursday (June 16).
All of the above would seem to bode well for a franchise now expected by many to compete all season for a division title. But fans are aware of an ongoing concern that scarcely could be called secondary. The fact remains that, even amid pitching success that has become the envy of the division (if not the league), the M’s just don’t hit consistently.
It isn’t as though skipper Eric Wedge hasn’t tried seemingly every configuration to try to produce offense. Wednesday he sent Peguero in as designated hitter in the clean-up hole. The power-hitter, though, would’ve been hitless in four at-bats had he not gotten the assist from the bag at second.
Some cite the notion that, while certain M’s players put up awesome offensive numbers at triple-A, they fail by comparison when brought to Seattle. One reason could be the relative lack of playing time. The big-league club already is packed with guys who need (and some of whom even deserve) more work. How, then, does a manager arrange to keep call-ups such as Mike Carp and Greg Halman (who had his first-ever big-league dinger Wednesday in the eighth) active and happy?
The playing-time problem only grows more critical with the arrival of Ackley. To accommodate his roster position, the odd man out will be infielder Luis Rodriguez, headed for Tacoma. M’s managers won’t want to platoon Ackley, which would seem to mean less — or no — play time for Jack Wilson.
Perhaps roster problems will work themselves out, rather in the manner of Ichiro’s apparent recovery from his slump. After taking a rare day off, he came back and had a run of multiple-hit games.
At least the team has its obvious assets. Even with the least-impressive of his 2011 outings Wednesday, set-up reliever David Pauley has some of the best stats in the league. His shaky eighth-inning efforts eventually helped the resurrected lefty Erik Bedard raise his record to 4-4 and lower his earned-run average to .316, which situates him well with the other four in the M’s starting rotation.
The other factor in favor of the M’s: serendipity. On two recent occasions, benign intervention may have won them ball games. The first was a few weeks ago when Seattle prevailed after an opponent lost a fly ball in the glare of the sun. Then, here again, was the timely second-sack assist.
If nothing else, then, luck alone could bring the M’s second chances at winning enough games to finish first.