Must Be Something in the Water: While Seattle’s Season Circles the Drain, Former Mariners Find Success in New Environments.

Carlos Silva was an unmitigated disaster in Seattle. In Chicago, the hefty sinker-baller is a star.

If you had told me before the 2010 season began that by the middle of June the Mariners would be 10 games out in the division and Carlos Silva would be a top contender for the NL Cy Young award, I would have thought you were crazier than Michael Lohan and Amy Winehouse –combined. 

Unfortunately, you would have been right. 

The Mariners have been awful in 2010, just awful. Despite the fact that there are only four teams in the AL West the Mariners find themselves sitting 5th in the division. They’re that bad. But, while Seattle battles for the number one overall pick in the 2011 draft, former Mariners are finding success in new places. Here’s a few key examples:

Carlos Silva (Chicago Cubs): After signing a four-year, $48 million dollar contract with the Mariners before the 2008 season, Carlos Silva set out to create a show called “Man vs. Food” in which he took on eating challenges throughout the country, only to discover such a program already existed. Undeterred, Silva devoured record amounts of food any chance he was afforded in the hope that one day, he too would have a shot at fame on the Food Network. Unfortunately, his increased focus on eating came at the expense of his pitching, and Silva went 5-18 in his two years with the Mariners before the team traded him to the Cubs for Milton Bradley. Since moving to the National League, Silva has rediscovered his mojo, posting an 8-2 record and 3.01 ERA. He returns to Seattle when the Cubs face off against the Mariners next week and fans are encouraged to throw hamburgers and hotdogs in Silva’s direction. It’s only fair. 

Adrian Beltre (Boston Red Sox): Adrian Beltre joined the Mariners in 2005 after hitting a career-high 48 home runs for the Dodgers the year before (he finished 2nd in MVP voting). In his five seasons with the M’s, Beltre averaged just over 20 home runs per year and never posted a batting average above .276. Beltre wasn’t a total bust because he played through injuries and was one of the best defensive third baseman in baseball, but he certainly didn’t live up to the bloated contract Bill Bavasi handed him. Now, healthy and in a new environment, Beltre is once again a force at the plate, hitting .338 with 10 HR’s and 48 RBI’s in his first 66 games with the Boston Red Sox. It’s not surprising, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less. 

Since leaving Seattle, Adrian Beltre has regained the form that made him an MVP candidate.

Mike Morse (Washington Nationals): Mike Morse might not be as well-known as some of the other names on this list (he had just 300 AB’s with the Mariners between 2005-08) his ability to hit the ball away from the other team’s defense would be a welcome addition to one of the major’s worst offenses. Morse struggled with injuries during his tenure in Seattle and was traded away last season for Ryan Langerhans (who, as you would suspect, is playing sparsely because of injuries). Finally getting some playing time with Washington, the 28-year-old Morse is hitting .395 with 2 HR’s and 5 RBI’s in 38 AB’s (a small sample size I realize, but he is a .303 career hitter). In Seattle’s defense, Morse looks like a dirtbag, so there’s that. Yeah. 

R.A. Dickey (New York Mets): The knuckle-balling Dickey was part of the Mariners’ historically bad 2008 campaign (61-101)–a year in which he went 5-8 with a 5.21 ERA. Apparently whatever his knuckleball was supposed to do, it didn’t, because Dickey was battered around all season. Flash forward to 2010 and Dickey is pitching like an ace for the New York Mets. Through his first six starts of the year Dickey is 5-0 with a 2.82 ERA  (31 strikeouts in 37 innings) and his knuckleball is dancing like Jessica Alba in Honey. I think the Mariners need to defect to the National League. The NL makes everyone look good. Even R.A. Dickey.

Rafael Soriano (Tampa Bay Rays): Despite posting a 2.25 ERA and striking out more than a batter per inning in 2006, Bill Bavasi traded Rafael Soriano to the Braves for the illustrious Horacio Ramirez (who won 8 games in 2007 despite posting a 7.16 ERA and 1.84 WHIP). Soriano was an outstanding relief pitcher for the Braves and has been even better since joining the Rays in 2010 where he is 16 for 16 in save opportunities with a 1.52 ERA. Who could have seen that coming? Oh wait, everyone but Bill Bavasi. I hate that man…I really do.

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Noteworthy News: Wrapping Up the Latest Deals from Baseball’s Winter Meetings

The Rangers sent Kevin Millwood to Baltimore, then signed free-agent Rich Harden the next day.

 1) Texas Rangers trade Kevin Millwood and cash to Baltimore Orioles in exchange for Chris Ray: The Texas Rangers have been one of baseball’s busiest teams in the  offseason thus far, and they continued that trend by sending former Opening Day starter Millwood and $3 million dollars to the Baltimore Orioles for relievers Chris Ray and Ben Snyder. Millwood was solid in 2009, going 13-10 with a 3.67 ERA but the Rangers were looking to free up salary to sign free-agent Rich Harden (a deal which has since been completed). The 27-year-old Ray is a former closer who struggled to return from elbow surgery last season but has saved 33 games as recently as 2006. The deal gives Baltimore a proven veteran pitcher controlled through 2011 to mentor younger starters David Hernandez, Brian Matsuz and Chris Tillman. 

2) Boston Red Sox trade Mike Lowell and cash to Texas in exchange for catching prospect Max Ramirez: The Red Sox freed up third base for next season, possibly in order to sign Adrian Beltre, with today’s trade of Mike Lowell to Texas. The Rangers plan to use the injury-prone Lowell as a DH and first baseman (potentially a platoon partner with Chris Davis). Lowell, a major liability in the field due to hip problems, appeared in just 119 games last year but still hit .290 with 17 HR’s and 75 RBI’s. The Red Sox have also agreed to pay most of Lowell’s $12 million dollar salary for next season if the league approves the deal. In return Boston receives Max Ramirez, a 25-year-old catcher and former Atlanta Braves top prospect, who will likely serve as Victor Martinez’s backup unless the Red Sox decide to shift Martinez to first. 

The Astros hope Feliz's strong defense will help them return to the postseason.

 3) Houston Astros sign free-agent third baseman Pedro Feliz: Feliz spent the last two years as the primary third baseman for Philadelphia but with the Phillies acquisition of Placido Polanco, the 2008 World Series champion was left looking for work and Houston happily obliged. The Astros already have Geoff Blum manning the hot corner but would prefer to use his versatility all over the field rather than play him full-time at third. Feliz is a solid defender at third base but is starting to become a liability at the plate after hitting only .266 with 12 HR’s and 88 RBI’s last season. Already 34-years-old, Feliz doesn’t have much in the way of upside and won’t turn a team from pretender to contender, but is a solid if unspectacular pickup (1 year/$4.5 million) for a team on a budget like Houston. 

4) Pittsburgh Pirates sign free-agent shortstop Bobby Crosby: An underachieving team signing an underachieving player doesn’t sound like a traditional recipe for success, but so is life for the Pittsburgh Pirates and their fans. Crosby has been in steady decline since winning the AL Rookie of the Year award in 2004 and struggled last year with injuries and inconsistency (.223-6 HR’s-29 RBI’s). The Pirates hope that he can challenge Ronny Cedeno for shortstop and possibly recapture some of his past success, but at only $1 million for next year Pittsburgh isn’t taking that big of a gamble on him…what’s new in Steeltown? 

5) Atlanta Braves trade relief pitcher Rafael Soriano to Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for pitcher Jesse Chavez: One of the top right-handed relief pitchers in the National League last season, Tampa Bay acquired Soriano with the idea plugging him in as their full-time closer in 2010. While splitting the closer’s role with Mike Gonzalez in Atlanta last year, Soriano posted a 2.97 ERA and struck out 102 batters in only 75 innings. The Rays had a full-blown closer by committee bullpen in 2009, and if Soriano can stay healthy Tampa Bay will be one step closer to challenging the Yankees and Red Sox for AL East supremacy. The Braves decided to move Soriano after he accepted their arbritation offer which would have cost the team between $7 and $8 million dollars next season if they had kept him. In return, Atlanta acquires an average bullpen arm (Chavez went 1-4, 4.07 ERA in 2009) at a steeply discounted price. 

Randy Wolf snagged almost $30 million dollars from the Brewers. Is he worth it?

 6) Milwaukee Brewers sign free-agent pitcher Randy Wolf: Looking to add stability to their rotation behind ace Yovanni Gallardo, the Brewers have reached an agreement with Randy Wolf on a three-year, $29 million dollar contract. The left-handed Wolf was the Dodgers most consistent pitcher last season, winning 11 games to go along with 160 strikeouts and a 3.23 ERA. However, before last year Wolf only had two other seasons with an ERA below 4.00, and is moving from one of the league’s best pitcher’s parks to one of the worst. The Brewers desperately needed starting pitching, help, but it remains to be seen whether Wolf is the right choice long-term. 

7) Texas Rangers sign free-agent pitcher Rich Harden: The ultimate high-risk, high-reward player on the market, Harden is one of the game’s most dominating starting pitchers—when he’s healthy. The deal promises Harden $7.5 million next season with a club option of $11.5 million for 2011. Harden went 9-9 with a 4.09 ERA last year for the Cubs, striking out 171 batters in only 141 innings. Unfortunately, last season was just the third time in his seven-year career that Harden pitched more than 140 innings, and only once has he made more than 30 starts in a single year (2004). If he can stay off the disabled list this could be a major coup for the Rangers, if not, it’s just a very expensive mistake.

Mariners Draw First Blood in Free Agency: Seattle Close to Signing Chone Figgins

The Mariners made the off-season's first big splash with the signing of Figgins to fill their void at third.

Jack Zdrunciek wasted no time in letting Seattle fans know his intentions for the 2010 season—the Mariners are gunning for an A.L. West title. With the calendar turning to December and baseball’s annual winter meetings looming, the M’s are rumored to be in the final stages of a deal that would bring the 31-year-old Chone Figgins to Seattle to serve as the team’s third baseman for the next four seasons. Though terms of the deal haven’t been finalized, it is estimated that Figgins would receive around $9 million a year through 2013, with a potential option for the 2014 season. Seattle struggled all season at third base, with poor offensive production from an injury-riddled Adrian Beltre and his replacement Jack Hannahan, and the position was clearly a focus of Zdrunciek heading into the offseason.

Figgins’ signing is a true double-edged sword for the Mariners. Not only does Seattle add a talented and versatile veteran to their roster, but in doing so they also rob division foe Los Angeles of one of their most consistent and popular players. Figgins has spent his entire eight-year career with the Angels, serving as a super utility man before settling in at the hot corner, and is coming off his most productive season yet. The pint-size sparkplug was one of the game’s best leadoff batters in 2009, hitting .298 with 42 stolen bases and 114 runs scored. An extremely patient batsman, Figgins led the American League with 101 walks and will provide the Mariners with a vast upgrade over last year’s two-hole hitters (.294 OBP vs Figgins .395). While he will be replacing a Gold Glove caliber player in Beltre, Figgins’ good range and strong arm at third certainly won’t conjure up any images of Russ Davis; he’s a solid player across the board.  

Figgins will combine with Ichiro to form a dynamic duo at the top of the Mariners' order.

The Mariners were second to last in the AL in OBP, batting average, OPS and runs scored in 2009 and the arrival of Figgins should help to address those glaring needs. Though Figgins spent all of last season leading off it’s unlikely that he will usurp Ichiro at the top of the order. Instead, manager Don Wakamatsu will probably bat him directly behind Suzuki, giving Seattle one of the best 1-2 punches in the game (the two combined for 408 hits, 202 runs and 68 stolen bases last year). Now that the Mariners are set at the top of the order, the rest of the offseason will be spent looking for someone to drive in Suzuki and Figgins (Russell Branyan? Matt Holliday? Jason Bay?) and starting pitching to back up Felix Hernandez (Erik Bedard? Jarrod Washburn? Josh Johnson?). Zdrunciek and Co. are just getting started in their preparation for 2010, but this signing is certainly a strong start for Seattle.

From the outset this looks like a major coup for the Mariners, but the final grade of this signing hinges on two major factors: Figgins productivity at the end of the contract and what the Angels are able to get out of the 18th pick in next year’s draft (which they receive as compensation from the M’s). In the mean time Seattle fans should enjoy this deal as it shows the front office’s commitment to creating a competitive ballclub. Figgins isn’t the final piece of the puzzle, but he will play a major role in helping the Mariners challenge for a division title and a chance to return to the postseason for the first time since 2001.

Finally Some Sunshine in Seattle: Ken Griffey Jr. Returns to Mariners for 2010

ken-griffey-jr-mariners

If one year is good, two years is better. Welcome back Junior.

It looks like Seattle Mariners fans will have to get ready for a few more standing ovations (though it’s highly unlikely they’ll mind) with today’s news that Ken Griffey Jr. has reached an agreement on a one-year contract with the Mariners. Exact terms of the signing have yet to be released, but the contract is thought to be similar to last year’s salary of $2 million plus another $3 million in incentives (ticket sales, merchandise, etc). A bargain at any price, bringing Junior to the Mariners was a no-brainer. The Kid is an institution in Seattle, and although his numbers might not bear it out, 2009 was a rousing success for both Griffey and the Mariners.

Seattle came into last season as a franchise in limbo. The team was fresh off one of the worst years in the club’s history, losing 101 games and generally looking like a team that didn’t care whether they won or lost. The clubhouse was fractured, fingers were pointed and no one seemed to be having any fun (except of course, for the teams that played the Mariners). Enter Griffey, who after a nine-year stint in Cincinnati and Chicago, came home to the city that never stopped loving him. The Kid was integral in creating a clubhouse atmosphere that fostered winning and was even able to break the normally quiet Ichiro out of his shell, with the two soon becoming best friends. Griffey was always quick with a smile or a prank and never complained about his diminished role as a platoon player; he was a consummate professional,  and the perfect fit for a Mariners team looking for leadership. Although not the sole reason for their dramatic improvement, the impact of Griffey’s return cannot be overstated as a factor in transforming Seattle from a 61-win team to an 85-win team that stayed in the postseason hunt all year long. Here are some of the highlights of his first year back in Seattle:

ken-griffey-jr-mariners-debut

Griffey's not the only one smiling with the word of his return to the Mariners.

–>Created neck-ties featuring manager Don Wakamatsu’s image and gave them to every member of the team to promote unity on road trips. He also handed out ties that had his picture and the words “World’s Greatest Teammate” on them.

–>Hit 400th career homerun as a Mariner, becoming the first player in major league history to record 200 HRs with one team (Cincinnati) and 400 HRs with another (Seattle).

–>After Adrian Beltre returned from a freak testicle injury, Griffey had the P.A. play the theme to “The Nutcracker” on Beltre’s first at-bat back.

–>Came through with a clutch pinch-hit, walk-off single against the Chicago White Sox in the 14th inning of an August game at Safeco.

–>Homered in three of his last five games of the season, raising hopes for a return to the diamond in 2010, and finishing the year 5th on the all-time homerun list with 630 career longballs.

Griffey_homer_PX00098_9

Can Griffey finally capture a World Series in his last go-round with the Mariners?

Does Griffey have anything left in the tank for 2010? He wasn’t great at the dish in ’09, finishing  the year with a .214 average, but he still managed to hit 19 HR’s with 57 RBI’s and there is some optimism that Junior’s offseason knee surgery will help him to perform better next year. It’s unclear what kind of role Griffey will have for the Mariners next season, but his signing makes it unlikely that Seattle would go after someone like Hideki Matsui (another DH-type with bad knees). While some might argue that Griffey’s return will hinder the growth of Seattle’s younger talent like Mike Carp or Michael Saunders (players who would lose at-bats to Junior), the veteran seems content with whatever playing time he is offered, and could serve as a great mentor to the next wave of Mariners’ hitters (who better to take advice from than a first ballot hall-of-famer). Besides, Ken Griffey Jr. has done enough for the city of Seattle and the Mariners franchise (a virtual afterthought in the baseball world before he arrived) that he deserves to go out on his own terms. Think of him like Bobby Bowden, but without the straw hat, Southern accent and strong odor of Bengay.

Two thousand and nine was a great year for the Mariners, climbing from the AL West cellar into playoff contention, and now with one more season of Griffey, Seattle has its sights set on a return to the postseason for the first time since 2001. M’s fans get another year with the greatest player ever to don turquoise (apologies to Muggsy Bogues) and Junior gets one last crack at that elusive World Series title, the only thing missing from an otherwise storied career.

It’s been almost 15 years since the Mariners crashed the playoffs in 1995 and came this close to making their first Fall Classic. Can Griffey finally lead Seattle to the promised land and finish what he started all those years ago? Why not? If Jack Zdrunciek signs some key free agents to surround Griffey, Felix Hernandez and Ichiro, anything can happen. Seattle’s favorite son is back where he belongs, and Mariners magic will once again sweep through the streets of the Emerald City. The 2010 baseball season can’t start soon enough in Seattle—Ken Griffey Jr’s back, the sun is shining and there’s reason to believe that this might be the most special year in the Mariners’ history. Let’s play ball!

Testicular Health is No Joke: A Public Service Announcement From Adrian Beltre

Do the right thing. Wear a cup. Every day, every game, every time.

Do the right thing. Wear a cup. Every day, every game, every time.

Cue: Adrian Beltre sitting on chair in Mariners’ t-shirt, facing the camera. 

“Hi I’m Adrian Beltre, third-baseman for the Seattle Mariners, and I’m here today to talk to you about a very important issue…the safety and protection of your testicles.”

Cue: Video of Beltre taking groundball to the groin. Cut back to Beltre in studio grimacing in pain after watching video, a single tear rolling down his check. Beltre turns back to camera, a serious expression marks his face.

“I used to think it was cool not to wear a protective cup. I could move around freely, there was no chafing, and best of all it didn’t look like I was smuggling a VW Beetle in my pants. I used to think it was cool…until…the accident.”

Cue: Replay video of groundball to the groin. Cut back to Beltre in studio.

“Even a gold glover like me didn’t have a chance against that grounder, and because I wasn’t wearing a cup, I had no protection against the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life. When that ball hit me in the groin, it cost my team a shot at the playoffs, but it may end up costing me a whole lot more. ”

Cue: Replay video of groundball to the groin. Cut back to Beltre in studio.

“You see, when that ball hit me in the groin, it contused my left testicle and caused some fairly severe bleeding. That’s right, a bleeding testicle…two words that should never go together. Team doctors say that the injury might require surgery, meaning that I would miss the rest of the season…and possibly my chance to have more children, all because I didn’t wear a cup”.

Cue: Replay video of groundball to the groin one more time, zooming in on impact and pained expression on Beltre’s face. Cut back to Beltre in studio.

“I had to learn the hard way the importance of wearing a cup, so now you don’t have to. Please, the next time you play baseball, take the extra minute to put on a protective cup. It might just be the difference between a happy life and one spent alone and barren. Do the right thing. Protect your self and your future by wearing a protective cup. Every day, every game, every time”.

Cue: “The More You Know” Music.

Mariners Monthly Roundup: July “It Was Fun While It Lasted” Edition

Gutierrez's emergence at the plate should give fans plenty of optimism for 2010.

Gutierrez's emergence at the plate gives M's fans hope for 2010.

Record: 14-13 (53-50 overall)

AL West Standings: LA (61-40); Rangers 3 GB; Mariners 9 GB; A’s 17.5 GB.

Top Hitter: Franklin Gutierrez has become one of the most exciting defensive outfielders in all of baseball this season, saving the Mariners countless runs with his strong arm, good instincts and unbelievable range.  In the month of July his bat finally caught up to his glove, as the 26-year-old Venezeluan hit .351 with 5 HRs and 17 RBIs. Simply en fuego. Gutierrez recovered quickly from a scary collision with the wall in Detroit and continues to cement himself as one of the cornerstones of Seattle’s rebuilding project. Almost an afterthought in the Mariners’ offseason moves, Gutierrez has arguably become the best all-around player on the team and his continued maturation at the plate gives M’s fans plenty to look forward to in the coming seasons.

Top Pitcher(s): Despite the fact that he no longer plays for the team, Jarrod Washburn was clearly the Mariners’ best pitcher in July. The suddenly reborn southpaw went 4-1 with a 1.44 ERA in the month and only allowed batters to hit .185 against him. It’s unfortunate that Washburn wasn’t able to pitch like this throughout his entire tenure with the Mariners, but his improvement this season allowed Seattle to maximize his trade value, and they received two good arms in return from Detroit (Luke French–a virtual clone of Washburn, and Mauricio Robles–a young, flame-throwing lefty with exciting potential). The Mariners have discussed the possibility of resigning Washburn in the offseason, and if they are able to accomplish that, this trade will look like a real steal for Jack Zdrunciek.

Beltre could return as soon as August 4th.

Beltre could return to the field as soon as August 4th.

Biggest Surprise: Adrian Beltre is making incredible progress in his return from shoulder surgery and is expected to be activated next week against Kansas City. Beltre dealt with bone spurs for most of the season and there was a possibility he wouldn’t play at all this year after surgery, but his return should provide a boost for the M’s over the season’s last two months providing he is fully recovered. A free-agent this offseason, Beltre will be eager to prove that he is still one of the better 3B in the game; let’s hope he does. It was fun while it lasted Jack Hanahan.

Biggest Disappointment: Lefty Garrett Olson continues to struggle in the starting rotation and may have puched a permament ticket to the bullpen with his latest stinker against Texas (3 2/3 innings, 6 hits, 4 ER, 3 HR). Olson has shown flashes of brilliance, but nothing consistent, and ended July with a 7.53 ERA. It’s unclear what Seattle’s long-term plan his for him, but it seems like Olson is best suited as a reliever (2.76 ERA out of the bullpen).

Griffey Watch: Junior got all of Seattle feeling nostalgic when he hit a two-out, two-run go ahead double against Roy Halladay over the weekend, but otherwise his July was utterly forgettable. Seattle’s DH hit .224 in the month, with only 1 HR and 5 RBIs. You can’t overlook his influence in the clubhouse but on the field Griffey is a 39-year-old at the tail-end of his career. It’s been wonderful having the Kid back in the Emerald City, but here’s hoping he hangs up the cleats at the end of the season.

Injuries: Endy Chavez (torn ACL–out for year); Adrian Beltre (bone spurs in left shoulder–early August return); Erik Bedard (left shoulder inflammation–due back mid-August);  Carlos Silva (fraying of labrum, enlarged stomach, loss of any tangible baseball skills, etc.).

Is Michael Saunders the answer in left field?

Is Michael Saunders finally the answer for the revolving door in left field?

Welcome Aboard: Jack Wilson (a nice upgrade over the Betancourt-Cedeno disaster at SS), Ian Snell (tons of potential, will a change of scenery make the difference?), Luke French (a solid lefty, #5 starter type), Michael Saunders (does anyone want to play LF for the M’s?), Jack Hannahan (fun name, good glove, but little else), Ryan Langerhans (thank the guys at USS Mariner for this one).

Happy Trails: Yuniesky Betancourt (you won’t be missed!), Wladimir Balentien (what a strange way to spell your name!), Jeff Clement (Pittsburgh is a wonderful baseball town! Also, a small list of players Bavasi could have drafted instead of Clement in 2005: Ryan Braun, Ryan Zimmerman, Troy Tulowitzki, Ricky Romero, Jay Bruce, Jacoby Ellsbury, Andrew McCutchen), Jarrod Washburn (Where was this kind of performance the past 3 years?!).

August Schedule: 2 @ Texas, 3 @ Kansas City, 3 vs. Tampa Bay; 3 vs. Chicago; 4 vs. New York; 3 @ Detroit; 3 @ Cleveland; 3 vs Oakland; 4 vs. Kansas City; 1 vs. Los Angeles.

Overall Grade: (B) The Mariners really weren’t that bad in July, they finished a game over .500, but a three game sweep at the hands of the Indians and the continued success of the Angels all but ended Seattle’s shot at making the postseason. Although they gave up Washburn, the Mariners should remain competitive throughout the rest of the season, and it will be interesting to see if the new pieces (Wilson, Snell, Saunders, French) can become part of Seattle’s longterm plan. Wakamatsu and the rest of the coaching staff should receive high praise for keeping the M’s in contention this last into the season, and fans should be excited about what’s in store for 2010. The Mariners are certainly making strides in the right direction and will look to play spoiler to pontential playoff teams down the stretch.

Mariners Monthly Roundup: June “We’re Not Dead Just Yet” Edition

King Felix was nearly untouchable in June.

Felix was nearly untouchable in June.

Record: 15-10 (39-37 overall)

AL West Standings: L.A. (42-33); Texas 1.5 GB; Seattle 3.5 GB; Oakland 10.5 GB.

Top Hitter: Ichiro continues to tear the cover off the ball, hitting over .400 in June including a streak of 7 straight multi-hit games. He has hit safely in 35 of his last 37 games and looks ready to run away with the AL batting title for the third time in his career. Ichiro also scored 18 runs and stole 8 bases in June, his highest monthly totals of the year in those categories. More importantly, Ichiro looks relaxed around his teammates this season and the talks of him being a clubhouse cancer have quieted down (at least while the Mariners keep winning). Despite missing the first two weeks of the season to a bleeding ulcer, Suzuki is still on pace to become the first player in baseball history with 8 consecutive 200+ hit seasons.

Top Pitcher(s): Felix Hernandez is finally starting to pitch like a king ready for his crown, coming off a stellar month of June in which he went 3-0 with a 0.94 (yes, 0.94) ERA while striking out 35 in 38 innings. With the Mariners’ offense struggling to score on a nightly basis the team has needed Hernandez to be a stopper and so far the 23-year-old hurler has answered the call. King Felix has rebounded nicely after a bumpy May and should have a shot at making his first AL All-Star squad. Just as important to the Mariners’ resurgance has been the continued dominance of off-season acquisition David Aardsma. The stud of the Mariners’ pen was perfect in June, converting all 8 save opportunities while not allowing a single run and striking out 20 in 11 innings (and only 4 walks). If Aarsdma can continue to keep his walk total low he should be a long-term answer for the Mariners because he certainly has the stuff to be among the game’s elite closers.

Is Junior finally starting to turn the corner?

Is Junior finally starting to turn the corner at the dish?

Biggest Surprise: Despite a negative run differential (296 runs scored/314 runs allowed) the Mariners are two games over .500 and only 3.5 games out in the division. First year manager Don Wakamatsu should receive praise for his effective use of the bullpen which has allowed Seattle to grit out one run games and stay competitive despite the club’s offensive woes.

Biggest Disappointment: It’s never a good thing when a player gets hurt—it’s probably something much worse when you’re actually glad a player a did. But such is the case with the perpetually underwhelming chipmunk-cheeked SS for Seattle, Yuniesky Betancourt. The M’s shortstop has been nothing less than mediocre the past three seasons, playing average defense at short while hitting around .280 with little power and even less plate discipline (70 BB in 2088 career ABs). Betancourt had been even worse this season, hitting .250 and getting benched by Wakamatsu for his poor work ethic and struggles at the plate. Betancourt was placed on the 15-DL over the weekend with a pulled hamstring, an injury that would be much more exciting if his replacement Ronny Cedeno wasn’t hitting .133. Where the heck is Felix Fermin when you need him? Should the M’s think about giving the Rays a call and asking about Triple-A shortstop Reid Brignac?

The M's won't be able to replace Beltre's defense at third.

The M's won't eaily be able to replace Beltre's defense at third after his surgery.

Griffey Watch: The Kid continues to “heat up” as the season progresses, improving to a line of .238-4 HR-11 RBI in June (he just missed hitting his 10th HR of the season off Mariano Rivera last night). It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s good to see that there’s still some life left in his bat and Mariners fans hope that he can continue to turn the corner and add some pop to an otherwise listless lineup.

Injuries: Endy Chavez (torn ACL–out for year); Adrian Beltre (bone spurs in left shoulder–6 to 8 weeks); Erik Bedard (left shoulder inflammation–due back July 4); Yuniesky Betancourt (hamstring–mid July return); Carlos Silva (nauseau, heartburn, indigestion, upset stomach, diarrhea–no return expected, ever).

July Schedule: 2 @ NY; 3 @ Boston; 3 vs Baltimore; 4 vs Texas; All-Star Break; 4 @ Cleveland; 3 @ Detroit; 3 vs Cleveland; 3 vs Toronto; 2 @ Texas.

Overall Grade: (A) June was a step in the right direction for Seattle, as the team continued to win close games and the offense began to show some signs of life. The next few weeks will be very important to the Mariners as they will determine whether the team becomes buyers or sellers with the trade deadline looming. Don’t forget to vote for your favorite Mariners to send them to the All-Star game in St. Louis!