Hasta La Vista Viva Las Vargas: Mariners Swap Southpaw Jason Vargas for Angels’ Superflous Slugger Kendry Morales

Jason+Vargas+Seattle+Mariners+Photo+Day+-9ic30UeLq1lThe walls are moving in and Jason Vargas is moving out.

In a typical tight-lipped Jack Zduriencik move that developed seemingly out of thin air, the Seattle Mariners agreed today to ship their number two starter to the L.A. Angels in return for 1B/DH Kendry Morales.

Vargas has been a serviceable starter for the Mariners the last three seasons, averaging innings and posting ERA’s of 3.78, 4.25, and 3.85. He’s a gritty pitcher with good control, but his so-so stuff, gopheritis (35 home runs allowed in 2012), and increasing salary made him a likely target to be moved this off-season. Vargas has always been a pitcher who benefited from Safeco’s spacious dimensions (2.74 ERA at home vs. 4.78 ERA on the road last season) and with stadium alterations in place for the 2013 season, the Mariners likely sold Vargas while his value was at its peak.

Trading within the division isn’t a common occurrence, but the Angels needed a starting pitcher to round out their rotation and had a glut of 1B/DH players on their roster, making Morales expendable. The switch-hitting slugger posted a triple-slash of .273/.320/.467 in 2012 and added 26 2B, 22 HR, and 73 RBI in his first season back from a horrific injury suffered in 2012 against, you guessed it, the Seattle Mariners. Morales finished 5th in the AL MVP vote his last full season (2009) and finished 2012 strong, posting OPS’s of .900 in August and .829 in September/October.

While the trade makes sense for both sides (and both players are free agents after the season), it doesn’t come without some inherent risks. The Mariners are leaving a gaping void in their pitching staff behind Felix Hernandez, and will be counting on young players like Erasmo Ramirez, Blake Beaven or James Paxton to produce at the big league level. Los Angeles is gambling that Vargas can produce away from the friendly confines of Safeco Field and that Morales won’t return to his pre-injury form.

Seattle’s net gain is somewhere close to zero in terms of WAR, but the team does add some desperately need offensive thump to the lineup, and may be setting themselves up for another move with Morales/Smoak/Montero all competing for plate appearance at first and DH.

The Mariners might not be a better team today than they were yesterday, but at least they’re a bit more interesting. That’s about all we can ask for…

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Mariners Monthly Roundup: September/October “Free at Last” Edition.

AL West pitchers are quickly learning that second hand Smoak can be deadly.

Record: 9-21 (Overall 61-101)  

AL West Standings: Texas, Oakland, L.A., Seattle 

Top Hitter: Ichiro turned it up a notch in September (.342) to continue his extraordinary run of 200 hit seasons but it was a talented rookie who gave Mariners fans the most reasons to cheer in the season’s last month. First baseman Justin Smoak looked like the player we envisioned the team was getting the Cliff Lee trade, posting a line of .325/.400/.525 in September/October, including a string of three straight games with a home run. In a lineup utterly devoid of any power, a full season of Smoak will be just what the doctor ordered for 2011. 

Top Pitcher: Even if he doesn’t win the AL Cy Young Award (he does play on the West Coast after all) Felix Hernandez still  finished the season with a bang, posting a 3-2 record in September with a 1.64 ERA and only 20 hits allowed in 38 innings. Hernandez finished the year ranked first in innings, first in ERA, second in K’s, second in WHIP and third in complete games, and oh yeah, he’s still just 24-years-old. King Felix gave Mariners’ fans something to look forward to every five days and provided hope that things won’t be this bad forever. For all the flak that Jack Zduriencik has received this season (and deservedly so) we should be very thankful that he got Felix inked to a contract extension. Now let’s just hope we can get him some run support in 2011.

Biggest Surprise: After doing absolutely nothing at the plate all year long, Jose Lopez went bananas in a September game against Toronto, hitting three longballs and driving in four runs. Of course he did it at a time when the Mariners couldn’t trade him, instead just stealing time away from young players who needed major league at-bats. Thankfully, he jammed his finger shortly thereafter and was shut down for the rest of the season–if only that had happened in April.

Biggest Disappointment: Everyone except Felix and Ichiro.

Home Run Tracker: The Mariners finished the season with the same number of home runs (101) as losses. Woof!

Injuries: Matt Tuiasosopo and Ryan Langerhans both had surgery to remove bone chips from their elbows. Erik Bedard is on a steady diet of tough pills to prepare for next season, but no one’s holding their breath. It’s dangerous.

Lingering Questions: Why did I pay to go to five Mariners’ games this year? Why did anyone pay to go to any Mariners’ game this year? Will anyone miss Casey Kotchman or Jose Lopez? Did we just witness the worst offensive season in the history of baseball? How was Dave Niehaus able to keep his sanity in the broadcast booth? Will my heart ever recover? Can I ever love the M’s again? Do they even deserve a second chance? Who will be the manager next season?

October Schedule: HAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAH!

Overall Grade: (D) The last month was as painful as any this season but at least Mariners’ fans got to watch Ichiro pass 200 hits and King Felix continue to dominate hitters at an otherworldly level. While the young kids (Cortes, Mangini, Halman, Varvaro, etc.) didn’t wow in their brief stunt with the big club, they gained invaluable major league experience and hopefully will help the Mariners gain some level of respectability in 2011. This month would have been graded an “F” but mercifully, it brought the season to a close. Let’s try to forget about 2010 as quickly as we can…

Salt in the Wound: Blue Jays’ Brandon Morrow Loses No Hitter, But Raises Doubts About Mariners’ Front Office Decision Making.

Did the Mariners give up on Brandon Morrow too early? It looked that way on Sunday.

This time last season Seattle fans were wearing “In Jack We Trust” t-shirts, petitioning the organization to construct a statue of new GM Jack Zduriencik in front of Safeco Field and writing in his name for governor of Washington.

What a difference a year makes.

Though Brandon Morrow fell just short of a no-hitter on Sunday afternoon against the Rays, his sterling 17 strikeout, one-hit performance still took some of the sheen off Zduriencik’s head and Seattle’s shiny new Bill Bavasi-less front office. Morrow was shipped to Toronto during the offseason in return for power reliever Brandon League who was supposed to bridge the gap between Seattle’s starting pitchers and closer David Aardsma. League hasn’t been bad (8-6, 3.16 ERA) but has consistently faltered in high-leverage situations, and despite a reputation as a flamethrower, has only struck out 40 batters in 57 innings.

The number five overall pick in the 2006 draft, Morrow was flipped from the starting rotation to the bullpen to Triple-A and back again so many times, it’s a wonder he doesn’t have multiple personalities. While the current regime can’t be blamed for the mismanagement of Morrow early in his career, they certainly can be accused of giving up on the young ace too early.

The 26-year-old Morrow is 9-6 on the season, with a 4.45 ERA (a number which would almost certainly be lower if he was pitching at Safeco Field) and 151 strikeouts in 127 innings (a league leading 10.67 K’s/9 innings). A full season in the starting rotation has done wonders for Morrow’s confidence and he’s started to hit the strike zone with more consistency. If he can continue to cut down on the walks and pitch deep into games, Morrow has the potential to become a staff ace in the mold of Bert Blyleven.

With their pitching staff in shambles (Felix Hernandez and Jason Vargas are Seattle’s only reliable starters) the Mariners can use all the arms that they can get. Who do you suppose they would rather have right now: an average middle reliever with a propensity for big innings, or an up-and-coming starter with the makings of a future star?

I’m not giving up on Zduriencik and Co., but a 42-70 record and scores of Mariners (Beltre, Silva, Thorton, etc.) finding success elsewhere don’t make it easy to believe things are going to chance anytime soon.

Is it football season yet?

Mariners Monthly Roundup: July “From Bad to Worse” Edition.

Michael Saunders is one of the few sources of hope in a dismal season.

Record: 6-22 (Overall 39-66)     

A.L. West Standings: Texas, Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle     

Top Hitter: With virtually the whole team slumping in the month it wasn’t difficult for second-year outfielder Michael Saunders to walk away as the best hitter in July. The 23-year-old began to show the potential that made him one of the Mariners most highly regarded prospects, hitting .279 with one HR and 6 RBI’s in the month. More importantly, Saunders flashed improved plate discipline with a 16/11 strikeout-to-walk ratio, leading to a .380 OBP. He’s shown himself to be an above-average defensive player and if he can continue to develop as a hitter, Saunders should be a major part of Seattle’s rebuilding effort moving forward.     

Top Pitcher: Felix Hernandez picked up right where Cliff Lee left off in June, although thanks to an anemic Mariners’ offense, the King only won a single game in July despite a 2.54 ERA and 33 strikeouts against only 9 walks. Besides Erik Bedard Luke French Ryan Rowland-Smith Justin Vargas, Felix is the only sure thing on the Mariners’ staff right now, and the team will have plenty of holes to fill heading into 2010. This team would be completely unwatchable if not for the presence of King Felix.  

Biggest Surprise: Left for dead with the acquisitions of Justin Smoak and Russell Branyan, Casey Kotchman finally decided it was time to play like a big leaguer, hitting .318 with 4 HR’s and 10 RBI’s in the month. With Smoak currently in Triple-A and Branyan manning DH duties, Kotchman should see some significant playing time moving forward. He’s not part of the team’s future, but it would be nice to see him get a chance to play for another team–preferably in the division.    

Biggest Disappointment: Every player on the team not named Felix Hernandez. Also, I wish that Don Wakamatsu and Chone Figgins’ fight had escalated in a full-blown dugout brawl with Rob Johnson’s leg getting broken in the scrum. It’s little things like that which help keep interest up in a long season. And it’s been a loooooooooong season…   

Injuries: Erik Bedard (out for season–hypochondria); Milton Bradley (15-day DL–patellar tendonitis); Shawn Kelley (15-day DL–elbow inflammation); Ryan-Rowland Smith (15-day DL–overall awfulness–set to meet with Men at Work on Monday).   

Lingering Questions: Will the Mariners finish with the worst record in baseball? Will Ichiro be the only Mariner to finish the season hitting over .250? How long before the pitchers and hitters engage in a bloody civil war? Why do I keep watching if they bring me nothing but pain? Can Adam Moore possibly be worse than Rob Johnson? Should fans start showing up at the games with bags on their heads? 

August Schedule: 1 @ Minnesota; 3 vs. Texas; 3 vs. Kansas City; 3 vs. Oakland; 3 @ Cleveland; 3 @ Baltimore; 3 @ New York; 3 @ Boston; 3 vs. Minnesota; 2 vs. Los Angeles.     

Overall Grade: (F) I’m out of words to describe the abomination that is the Mariners, so this picture will have to do.

Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back: Should the Mariners Buy or Sell?

Bedard has pitched brilliantly all season, making him a prime trade target.

Bedard has pitched well all year, making him a prime trade target.

Breezing into the All-Star break with a record of 46-42 the Seattle Mariners have outperformed even the most optimistic of predictions for their 2009 season. Despite a lackluster offense (2nd to last in the American League in runs) the Mariners find themselves only four games out of first in the AL West after taking three of four from Texas over the weekend. The team has thrived in one-run games and has gotten clutch contributions from every spot in the order (Chris Shelton today, Rob Johnson yesterday, etc). Seattle’s pitching has been the linchpin to success, with a fantastic 3.74 ERA as a team (1st in AL). The pitching staff also leads the league in saves, WHIP and batting average against (.246). This season is beginning to look like 2007 for the Mariners, a year in which they scored less runs than they allowed, yet still finished with a record of 88-75. Even though they beat the odds in 2007 to finish on the winning side of the ledger, Seattle still missed the playoffs and fell to 61-101 last year. The L.A. Angels have heated up after a slow start, winning 7 of their last 10 games, and it will likely take 90+ wins to capture the division. As good as the Mariners have been, they probably can’t be expected to win more than 84-85 games. So, do the Mariners gamble that they can overtake the Angels and try to acquire some offensive firepower, or does Seattle trade some of their veterans and start building towards next season?

The Mariners' off-season addition of Gutierrez has them challenging for the division crown. Are there more moves ahead?

The Mariners' off-season addition of Gutierrez has them challenging for the division crown. Are there more moves ahead before the deadline?

New general manager Jack Zdrunciek has shown himself to be a shrewd evaluator of talent, bringing in key players like David Aardsma, Russell Branyan and Franklin Gutierrez through free agency and trades. Zdrunciek seems intent on keeping Seattle competitive this season, already acquiring Ryan Langerhans and Jack Hannahan in trades as well as shipping Yuniesky Betancourt to the Royals. However, the Mariners sent most of their best minor league players (Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, etc.) to Baltimore in the Erik Bedard deal last year and injuries to starters like Adrian Beltre, Endy Chavez and the since-departed Betancourt have exposed the lack of depth in the club’s farm system. Zdrunciek finds himself at a crossroads in the first year as Seattle’s GM, balancing the need to compete this season against the need to build a team that can challenge for the playoffs perennially. While Zdrunciek was with Milwaukee the team had a track record for shying away from big trades (except for C.C. Sabathia last season) and building one of baseball’s best farm systems (Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, JJ Hardy, etc.). Will Zdrunciek stick to this formula with the Mariners?

If Seattle does decide that they want to move some pieces before the July 31st trading deadline they have plenty of players that would attract interest throughout baseball. Pitcher Erik Bedard would likely be the most coveted Mariner, a left-handed pitcher with the potential to be a true staff ace. Bedard has struggled to stay healthy in his career with Seattle, but has been phenomenal in 2009 with a 2.63 ERA and 79 Ks in 75 innings. The Mariners would be wise to shop him around while he is healthy, as Bedard is a free-agent at the end of the year and unlikely to resign with Seattle. Another sell-high candidate for the M’s is surprising slugger Russell Branyan. Given a full-time role for the first time in his career, Branyan has responded by hitting .280 with 22 HRs and 49 RBIs. The power numbers are for real, but his high strikeout rate points to a continued dip in batting average as he is only a .237 hitter in over 2,200 lifetime at-bats. Rounding out the Mariner’s trading chips is the resurgent Jarrod Washburn. Finally pitching like the player Seattle thought they signed in 2006, Washburn’s new splitter has given him the ability to drastically cut down the number of hits he allows, and at the break he sports a 6-6 record with a 2.96 ERA. Like Bedard, Washburn will be a free-agent at the end of the season, and if he signed with another team would only net the Mariners one compensatory draft pick.

Reid Brignac would sure look good in Mariner blue.

Shortstop Reid Brignac would sure look good in Mariner blue.

On the other hand, if Seattle wants to make a run at the AL West title, there are a number of moves that the team needs to make in order to keep pace with the Angels and Rangers. One position that has long been a headache for the Mariners is shortstop. Betancourt was a disappointment before his trade and replacement Ronny Cedeno may play great defense, but he is hitting just .168 on the year. An intriguing option for the Mariners is Tampa Bay minor league shortstop Reid Brignac. Buried behind Jason Bartlett and Ben Zobrist in the Rays organization, Brignac is a top-tier prospect, and if the M’s can pry him away from Tampa he could become Seattle’s shortstop of the future while helping them contend for the playoffs this year. The addition of Langerhans has provided a temporary spark to the Mariners’ offense, but the team still has a glaring need for an outfielder with some pop. Most teams don’t like to trade within the division, but Seattle would greatly benefit from the power and speed combination of Oakland leftfield Matt Holliday. After a slow start to the season, Holliday has regained the form that made him a runner for up NL MVP in 2007, and with the Athletics firmly entrenched in the division cellar would be available for the right price. If Seattle doesn’t want to meet Billy Beane’s demands for Holliday, the Mariners might want to think about pursuing Washington Nationals OF Josh Willingham (.304 BA, 12 HRs, .419 OBP) who is having a career year at age 30 and would come with a much smaller price tag.

The Mariners and GM Jack Zdrunciek have some very important decisions to make over the next few weeks. Do they owe it to their fans to go out and trade for a big bat and help at third base or shortstop? Or should they move some soon-to-be free agents in order to build for the future? Needless to say, Zdrunciek and Co. will have many a sleepless night between now and July 31st.

What do you think? Should the Mariners buy or sell at the trade deadline?

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!

Mariners Monthly Roundup: May “Well, That’s More of What We Expected” Edition

Aardsma has proved a capable closer for the Mariners.

Aardsma has proved a capable closer for the Mariners.

Record: 11-18 (24-27 overall)

AL West Standings: Texas (30-20), LA 4.5 GB, Seattle 7 GB, Oakland 10.5 GB.

Top Hitter: While it doesn’t take much to stand out in the Mariners’ rag-tag lineup, Ichiro enjoyed a very productive month at the dish during May. Suzuki hit .377 in the month, riding a 24-game hitting streak that raised his season average to .354. The Japanese Juggernaut also contributed 3 HRs, 10 RBIs and 5 SBs. While he still doesn’t draw any walks, and his speed is on the decline, Ichiro is still one of the lone bright spots for an offense that ranks near the bottom of the American League in nearly every category (12th in BA, 14th in Runs, 14th in OBP, 13th in Slugging). If the M’s are going to have any chance at competing in the AL West, Suzuki is going to have to continue to play as well as he did in May.

Top Pitcher(s): Besides having the distinct honor of appearing before aardvark in the dictionary, David Aardsma has also thrived as the Mariners’ closer since he took over for the erratic Brandon Morrow. Most fans (including myself) probably didn’t think Aardsma had a chance to be a successful stopper because the former 1st round draft pick came into the season with a career ERA near 5.00. But besides his Jose Mesa-eqsue implosion on the last day of May (2/3 IP, 3 R, 4 BB), Aardsma proved his mettle, converting 5 of 6 saves with a 2.25 ERA. The former Rice closer has electric stuff; Aardsma dials up a mid-90s fastball and dares hitters to catch up to it—so far they haven’t been able to (18 Ks in 16 May innings). He still needs to cut down on the walks (12 BBs in May), but otherwise Aardsma looks like one of the Mariner’s best offseason acquisitions. Another pleasant surprise for Seattle has been lefty Jason Vargas who came to the M’s in the J.J. Putz trade. Since his call-up at the beginning of May, Vargas has gone 2-0 with a 1.65 ERA between the bullpen and starting rotation. If he keeps this early season success going, Don Wakamatsu will have a tough decision to make when Ryan Rowland-Smith returns to the team.

Big Russell Branyan--the Mariner's lone source of power.

Big Russell Branyan--the Mariner's lone source of power.

Biggest Surprise: Russell Branyan has proven to be the only consistent source of power in the Mariner’s lineup, leading the team with 11 HRs on the season. Even more shocking is that the .237 career hitter followed up a .333 April by hitting .317 in May with 7 HRs and 13 RBIs. Branyan has predominately been a three true outcomes (HR, K, BB) player throughout his career, but has pulled a page out of Ichiro’s book and his ability to hit singles and doubles this year has kept his average above .300. Given the chance to play full-time for the first time in his career Branyan has thrived, and while undoubtedly his average will fall, he at least gives the Mariners one player in their lineup that pitchers need to respect.

Biggest Disappointment: The last time Adrian Beltre entered a contract year he went bananas, hitting .334 with 48 HRs and 121 RBIs. So far this season, Beltre has made Mariners’ fans long for the day of Russ Davis or David Bell, hitting .250 in May with 3 HRs and 11 RBIs (not to mention his 4/21 BB-to-K ratio). Seattle would probably like to trade Beltre when if they fall out of contention, but he sure isn’t making it easy on them. While he plays Gold Glove caliber defense at third, he hasn’t been able to rediscover the steroids swing that made him an MVP-caliber player with the Dodgers.

Griffey Watch: Junior hit .214-3 HRs-9 RBIs in May, which suprisingly enough, was better than his April. Mr. Zduriencik, Jose Vidro is on line one…

Injuries: Kenji Johjima (15-day DL, fractured big left toe); Ray Corcoran (15-day DL, sore neck, early June return); Ryan Rowland-Smith (15-day DL, triceps tendinitis, early June return); Carlos Silva (15-day DL, general terribleness, teammates/fans hope for extended stay on DL).

June Schedule: 3 vs. Baltimore; 3 vs. Minnesota; 3 @ Baltimore; 3 @ Colorado; 3 @ San Diego; 3 vs. Arizona; 3 vs. San Diego; 3 @ LA Dodgers; 1 @ NY Yankees.

Overall Grade: (C) After a hot start the Mariners have come crashing back to earth and unless their offense improves there is no reason to expect a change anytime soon. Their pitching staff has been superb, but an utter lack of run support will leave the Mariners struggling to stay around.500. Hopefully they can use interleague play as a springboard back towards contention, but don’t bet on it.