Mariners Monthly Roundup: August “Mediocrity Reigns” Edition.

 

Despite being surrounded by a bunch of yea-hoos, Ichiro has continued his indomitable march towards history.

Record: 12-14 (Overall 51-80)       

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

Top Hitter: After slumping below .250 in July, Ichiro rebounded to post a .307 average in August including a two home run game at Yankee Stadium (they were against Javier Vasquez however, so they don’t really count). Though Ichiro’s had a down season by his standards (on pace for career lows in HR’s, runs, triples and his second lowest OPS) the Mariners top-of-the-order mainstay is still on pace for a record 10th straight 200 hit season. In a season so wrought with disappointment, it’s nice to have someone to look forward to. Bless you Ichiro. Bless you.  

Top Pitcher: Who’d you think it was gonna be, Sean White? Felix Hernandez continued a dominant season with his best month of the year, posting a 3-2 record with 0.82 ERA, .137 batting average against and 51 strikeouts in 43 2/3 innings. Despite suffering through some of the worst run support in baseball, King Felix has planted himself firmly in the Cy Young discussion by ranking 1st in innings, 2nd in ERA, 1st in K’s, 4th in WHIP and 3rd in complete games. Felix’s value to this team can’t be overstated–without him they would be utterly unwatchable. As is they’re just mostly unwatchable…  

Biggest Surprise:  Brandon League arrived in Seattle during the offseason in a controversial trade that sent talented but erratic starting pitcher Brandon Morrow to Toronto. The hard-throwing Hawaiian was supposed to be one of the best set-up men in all of baseball, but in the first half of the season he posted a 3.86 ERA and was responsible for many of the Mariners’ most painful defeats (“Oh, we’ve got a three run lead? I guess I’ll walk the bases loaded and then cough up a gopher ball). Since the All-Star break though, League has been in the zone, including August where he posted a 0.60 ERA in 15 innings. I’m not saying it was a good idea to trade Brandon Morrow, but it is nice to know that we weren’t entirely fleeced. Right? Right?  

Biggest Disappointment: Jose Lopez brings less to the table than Bob Cratchit. Why the Mariners are still giving at-bats to someone with a .605 OPS is beyond me, because Lopez has been a black hole all season long. There’s little doubt that he’ll be gone at the end of the season; why wait till then to give Matt Mangini or Matt Tuiasosopo a chance?  

Injuries: Erik Bedard (out for season–hypochondria); Milton Bradley (15-day DL–patellar tendonitis–underwent surgery August 17th); Shawn Kelley (15-day DL–elbow inflammation–appears headed for Tommy John surgery); Jack Wilson (out for season–hand surgery).  

Lingering Questions: If the Mariners win a game, and no one is watching, does it still count? Can Felix win a Cy Young with a losing record? Adam Moore can’t possibly be as bad as Rob Johnson, can he? What medication should I take for Mariners’ Season(al) Depression? 

September Schedule: 1 vs. Los Angeles, 4 vs. Cleveland, 3 @ Oakland, 3 @ Los Angeles, 3 vs. Boston, 3 vs. Texas, 3 @ Toronto, 3 @ Tampa Bay, 3 @ Texas, 1 vs. Oakland.  

Overall Grade: (C+) With new manager Darren Brown at the helm the Mariners weren’t completely awful in August, winning four series in a row before sputtering at the end of the month. Still, while the offense was marginally better than it had been, it was still the worst in baseball and made me question why I even bother to watch the M’s play.

Dave Niehaus, that’s why.

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Wak Blocked: Mariners Fire Second-Year Manager Don Wakamatsu; Admit That Season Isn’t Exactly Going As Planned.

Though Wakamatsu took the fall, no one in the organization is without blame.

Though the writing had been on the wall for months, yesterday’s firing of manager Don Wakamatsu still came as a surprise from an organization that had come to reward mediocrity over the last decade.  

With the team in a free fall and showing no signs of improvement, GM Jack Zduriencik decided that Wakamatsu was no longer the right man for the job, and showed his hand-picked manager the door.  

The Mariners entered Monday night with a record of 42-70, the third worst in baseball, after a busy offseason that brought hope of a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2001. With virtually every player on the team underperforming Wakamatsu never really had a chance to succeed (it is a Seattle sports team after all). Wakamastu wasn’t without blame though;  his questionable handling of the bullpen and inability to get maximum effort out of the team made the lame duck manager a perfect scapegoat for the M’s numerous shortcomings.  

Triple-A manager Darren “Aw Shucks” Brown will replace Wakamatsu for the remainder of the season, though with the current squad, he’s probably not expected to do anything more than shake out the roster and try to figure out which pieces hold value moving into 2011 (so long Jose Lopez, Milton Bradley, Rob Johnson, etc). It would behoove Brown to manage with a bit more evident passion than Wakamatsu, whose Zen-like persona made him appear like an apathetic captain at the helm of a sinking ship.  

It’s unfortunate that a classy manager like Wakamatsu had to be fired after just two seasons because of poor front office decisions, but it was apparent from his run-ins with Ken Griffey Jr., Milton Bradley, Michael Lohan and Chone Figgins that he no longer had the respect of his players. 

He’s not the only one whose lost respect this season–Seattle’s front office and ownership are also on thin ice with M’s fans after putting one of the sorriest teams on the field in the organization’s storied history. 

If more changes aren’t made soon, Wakamatsu won’t be the only one looking for work this offseason…

Sobering Stats from the First Half of Seattle’s Subpar Season.

Brandon League has been so bad in Seattle, that no photos exist of him as a Mariner.

The Mariners are so bad they don’t even deserve an introductory paragraph. Here’s a look at some of their craptastic numbers from the first half: 

–>At 35-53, the Mariners are 15 games behind Texas in the AL West. 

–> The Mariners’ opponents have outscored them by 79 runs–putting them in the same company as Baltimore, Houston, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Arizona. Misery loves company… 

–> Seattle is hitting .238 as a team (only .225 if you don’t include Ichiro). Let that sink in; or try not to think about it at all. 

–> By himself, Ichiro is responsible for 16.9% of the Mariners’ hits. Sure he’s the leadoff hitter, but still… 

–> Jose Lopez, the team leader in RBI’s, is on pace for 68 total. Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers already has 77. 

–> Seattle catchers have combined for more passed balls than hits. It’s not true, but the fact that is seems feasible tells you everything you need to know about the Mariners’ 2010. Where’s Tom Lampkin when you need him? 

–> The Mariners are 28th in batting average, 28th in home runs, 29th in runs and 29th in hits…out of 14 teams. 

–> Ryan-Rowland Smith, Ian Snell and David Aarsdma have a combined record of 1-20. 1 and 20. 

–> Despite the fact that the M’s sit at 35-53, which is a palindrome, Major League Baseball will not allow Seattle to flip their record. 

–> Cliff Lee is gone and he’s never coming back! 

Well, I guess the numbers don’t lie, the Mariners really do suck. Enjoy the All-Star break–which is really just a break from watching the Mariners play. 

And we all need that…

Mariners Monthly Roundup: April “Who Needs to Hit to Win the West” Edition

 

Franklin Gutierrez carried the Mariners offense in April. Can he keep it up all season?

Record: 11-12

AL West Standings: Oakland, Texas, Seattle, Los Angeles

Top Hitter: Well, being the top hitter for the Mariners is kind of like being the best Hinder cover band, but that shouldn’t take away from what Franklin Gutierrez did at the plate in April. The constantly improving 27-year-old hit .326 for the month with 2 HR’s and 13 RBI’s and was Seattle’s only real threat in the lineup. Guti came through with a number of clutch hits and is a major reason why the M’s are hovering around .500 instead of being in the AL West cellar after a dreadful offensive showing as a team in April.

Top Pitcher: Dazzling Doug Fister may have had to battle for a spot in the rotation during Spring Training, but he looked like a seasoned vet on the mound in April. The 6′ 8″ righty made the most of his home ballpark and defense with a 2-1 record and stellar 1.67 ERA. Though Fister doesn’t throw hard (high 80’s) he pounds the strike zone (only 5 walks in 27 innings) and makes opposing hitters beat him; they weren’t able to do so in the season’s first month (.208 batting average against). Fister took a no-hitter into the 7th inning against the Orioles on April 19th and gives the M’s a surplus of starting pitching if he can keep up his strong start.

Biggest Surprise: See above.

Biggest Disappointment: Milton Bradley was supposed to the Mariners’ cleanup hitter in 2010 but responded by hitting only .211 in April and continuing to act like a 12-year-old. Something tells me he is due for a big blowup after watching a called third strike with the bases loaded against Tampa Bay; just a hunch I guess.

Doug Fister looked like an ace in April. But can the offense keep pace with the M's staff?

Griffey Watch: Far be it from me to second guess one of the greatest players in the history of baseball, but it looks like Ken Griffey Jr. should have left while he was ahead after the 2009 season. Through the first month of the year Junior was hitting just .228 with only one extra-base hit (a double) and 4 RBI’s in 57 AB’s. He can’t catch up to even pedestrian fastballs and spends most of his time looking lost at the plate. Jack Zdurinciek and manager Don Wakamatsu will have a tough choice to make with Griffey if he doesn’t start hitting, and soon.

Home Run Tracker: Nine (9). That’s not a typo. The entire team hit nine home runs in one month. Somebody better call Avista because the power is out in Seattle.

Injuries: Erik Bedard (shoulder surgery, 15-day DL–possible late May return); Jack Hannahan (strained groin, 15-day DL–Triple A rehab)

Lingering Questions: Will Cliff Lee’s return energize the Mariners? Will anyone besides Franklin Gutierrez and Ichiro hit? How long will it be before Mike Sweeney’s hugs lose their charm? Can someone please hit a home run? Just one?

May Schedule: 2 vs. Texas, 3 vs. Tampa Bay, 3 vs. Los Angeles, 3 @ Baltimore, 3 @ Tampa Bay, 2 @ Oakland, 2 @ Toronto, 3 vs. San Diego, 2 vs. Detroit, 3 @ Los Angeles, 1 vs. Minnesota.

Overall Grade: (B-) The Mariners should be thanking their lucky stars that the rest of the AL West struggled through April because Seattle did not look like a playoff team in the first month of 2010. Their pitching is once again among the game’s best but the offense looks even worse than last season–and they were bad in 2009. The return of Cliff Lee should help the M’s, but unless the team starts hitting they’ll find themselves out of contention by the end of May. Seattle needs to regroup fast in order to live up to their lofty expectations. Things could get ugly in hurry if they don’t…

Heaven Isn’t Too Far Away: The Authoritative 2010 Seattle Mariners Season Preview.

Are the Seattle Mariners bound for baseball heaven in 2010?

It was the year 1989 when Warrant penned their classic hair-metal ballad “Heaven”—a song that helped their album go platinum and pushed the band to the forefront of the rock-and-roll consciousness. That very same year another chart topper emerged into the national spotlight—a young ballplayer by the name of Ken Griffey Jr. who energized a sleepy city and brought direction to a long lost franchise.   

Now in the third decade of a storybook career, Griffey has one last, final last chance to bring a title to a championship-starved town and add the only thing missing from an otherwise spotless resume. Does he have enough left in his 40-year-old body to will the M’s across the finish line? Are his teammates up to the challenge?   

The Mariners took a major step forward last season, finishing with an 85-77 record on the strength of breakout stars like Felix Hernandez and Franklin Gutierrez. Seattle’s GM Jack Zduriencik sensed that 2010 could be a banner year for his team and he spent the offseason creating a championship caliber ballclub, headlined by the additions of former Cy Young award winner Cliff Lee and speedster Chone Figgins. Do the Mariners have enough ammunition to compete in a deep and talented division or are they once again destined for disappointment? Here’s what they’re bringing to the table in 2010:  

Starting Nine (Projected 2010 stats from ESPN.com)   

Rightfield: Ichiro Suzuki (.307-6 HR’s-49 RBI’s-29 SB’s-.350 OBP)   

Second Base: Chone Figgins (.281-4 HR’s-46 RBI’s-35 SB’s-.375 OBP)   

Leftfield: Milton Bradley (.285-15 HR’s-58 RBI’s-.394 OBP)   

Designated Hitter: Ken Griffey Jr. (.239-14 HR’s-41 RBI’s-.341 OBP)   

Third Base: Jose Lopez (.279-24 HR’s-90 RBI’s-.308 OBP)   

Centerfield: Franklin Gutierrez (.280-20 HR’s-68 RBI’s-14 SB’s-.333 OBP)   

First Base: Casey Kotchman (.274-9 HR’s-53 RBI’s-.342 OBP)   

Shortstop: Jack Wilson (.250-4 HR’s-40 RBI’s-.293 OBP)   

Catcher: Adam Moore/Rob Johnson (.250-6-22/.243-5-30)   

The Mariners need Griffey to hit like a kid again in 2010.

Thoughts: While it’s not exactly Murderer’s Row, the M’s lineup should be an improvement over the squad that managed to score only 640 runs last season. Seattle might not have a single player top 30 home runs this year, but playing in spacious Safeco Field the team is better suited to rely on speed and gap power anyway, and it appears the M’s finally have a squad suited for that style of play with Ichiro and Figgins leading the way atop the lineup. The two combined for an astounding 408 hits, 202 runs and 68 stolen bases last year and should cause nightmares for opposing pitchers.

Bradley has the potential to be a solid #3 hitter with decent pop and good patience but he’s anything but a sure thing mentally or physically. Griffey is expected to be in better shape than 2009 after offseason knee surgery and Gutierrez should continue to mature as a hitter after showing marked improvement last year. Lopez wouldn’t draw a walk if you offered him $100,000 for each base on balls, but he’s at least adequate for Seattle at third base and will be an improvement over the injury-riddled Adrian Beltre of last year. The bottom third of the order is better suited for play in the deadball era and will need to exceed expectations in order to avoid letting the rest of the team down.  

Ryan Garko and Eric Byrnes should provide some energy off the bench and talented youngster Michael Saunders is waiting in the wings with the Tacoma Rainiers if Bradley gets stupid or injured (or both at the same time). Hopefully Seattle can avoid handing out too many at-bats to the offensively challenged Jack Hannahan and Ryan Langerhans (both of whom have more holes in their swings than the plot of an M. Night Shyamalan movie). Their lineup clearly isn’t going to carry the Mariners to the pennant, but it ought to be good enough to keep games close…and that’s all Seattle’s pitchers will need.  

Pitching Staff (Projected Stats from ESPN.com)   

1) Felix Hernandez (17 wins-2.95 ERA-1.21 WHIP-203 K’s)   

2) Cliff Lee (18 wins-3.33 ERA-1.22 WHIP-180 K’s)     

3) Ryan Rowland-Smith (10 wins-4.06 ERA-1.31 WHIP-111 K’s)   

4) Ian Snell (7 wins-5.05 ERA-1.59 WHIP-96 K’s)   

5) Jason Vargas/Doug Fister/Luke French (????)   

Can the Hyphenator build of his late season success and complement Felix and Cliff?

Thoughts: The pitching talent drops off precipitously after Hernandez and Lee, and if they could, the team would probably pitch those two every other day (Dr. James Andrews has advised against it). The Mariners have to hope that Erik Bedard makes a speedy recovery from offseason surgery or the club might have to pursue another arm at the trading deadline to stay in contention.  

King Felix will be hard pressed to improve upon his 2009 season, but at only 23-years-old (24 in April), nothing is out of the question for the talented Venezuelan (he’s the odds on favorite for the 2010 AL Cy Young Award). Lee should be able to thrive in a pitcher’s park with a strong defense up the middle, and his impending free agency at the end of the year should provide him with all the motivation he needs. Rowland-Smith is a serviceable number three starter who could turn some heads after a strong finish to 2009. After Rowland-Smith however, things get a little bit murky. 

Ian Snell was consistently inconsistent after being acquired from the Pirates last year and unless he drastically cuts down on walks he’ll never be anything but a headache for the Mariners. Fister, Vargas and French all had moments of brilliance in 2009, but none of them have taken the bull by the horns and grabbed the #5 spot with their performances in Spring Training. Seattle has the best 1-2 punch in all of baseball with Hernandez and Lee and they’ll need to lean heavily on them with question marks throughout the rest of the rotation. A healthy Bedard is paramount to a deep postseason run. 

Bullpen:   

Closer: David Aardsma   

Set-Up: Mark Lowe, Brandon League, Shawn Kelley, Kanekoa Texeira, etc.   

It's everything I always hoped it would be.

Thoughts:  Just like last year, the bullpen should be the real strength of the club. David Aardsma was one of the biggest surprises in baseball last year, and even with the expected regression in 2010, should be an above-average closer for the M’s. If he struggles, the newly acquired Brandon League has the stuff to close games, as does Mark Lowe. Texeira (thankfully no relation to the Yankees’ Mark) has looked sharp all spring and should help to bridge the gap in the 7th or 8th inning. If there is one facet of the team that I’m not worried about, it’s the bullpen.

Fearless Forecast: Call me hopelessly optimistic, but something about this Mariners’ squad has me more excited for Opening Day than I can ever remember. The team has a good mix of veterans and rising stars and a boatload of positive momentum after a surprising 2009 season. The clubhouse chemistry should remain intact with Griffey still aboard, although it may suffer some with the loss of Carlos Silva (aka Felix’s BFF).

The Mariners aren’t great in any one area of the game, but they are solid across the board and should be able to take advantage of a down year for the Los Angeles Angels and capture the AL West in a hard fought battle. With King Felix, Cliff Lee and Erik Bedard leading the rotation Seattle would be unstoppable in a postseason series, because as is proven year after year, pitching wins championships. And finally, after all these years and countless tears, Ken Griffey Jr. and the Mariners will bring a World Series title home to Seattle.

For once Mariners’ fans, heaven isn’t too far away.

Completing the Puzzle: Who Do the Mariners Need to Target in Free Agency?

Jason Bay has ties to the Pacific Northwest, but is he a good fit for the Seattle Mariners?

Though the Mariners signing of free-agent third baseman Chone Figgins  shows that they are serious about competing for the division, baseball’s Winter Meetings have come and gone and the team still has plenty of holes left to fill if they want to have a realistic shot at winning the AL West.

Texas has been busy all week, signing free-agent Rich Harden and acquiring Chris Ray and Mike Lowell (still pending) through trades, turning up the heat on Seattle to keep pace.

The Oakland Athletics were one of the most improved teams in all of baseball during last season’s second half, and figure to be even better in 2010 with all the experience their young players gained down the stretch.

Los Angeles lost Figgins and may be unable to resign their ace Jon Lackey, but the Angels are still dangerous after winning the division by 10 games last year despite battling injuries to key players the entire season.

All four teams in the AL West have a legitimate shot at winning the division next year, with no clear front-runner at this point in the offseason; what will it take for the Mariners to come out on top in 2010?

The addition of Figgins fills Seattle’s need for a third-baseman, but the Mariners still need help at first-base, catcher, left-field, designated hitter and in their rotation (more on this in a later post). Statistically one of the worst offensive teams in the American League last season, Seattle’s superb pitching staff carried the team all year, leading the AL with a 3.87 team ERA. While the pitching will likely regress a bit next year due to the losses of Erik Bedard and Jarrod Washburn, it’s clear that the Mariners main focus this offseason needs to be on adding offensive firepower; this may prove to be an expensive proposition with four positions yet to be filled.

After Endy Chavez’s season-ending injury the Mariners got virtually no production out of leftfield, with the trio of Bill Hall, Michael Saunders and Ryan Langerhans performing well below replacement level. Jason Bay is imminently available after being unable to come to terms with the Red Sox and has strong ties to the Pacific Northwest, but is seeking a contract in the range of 4-5 years and $60+ million dollars, a deal that would leave the Mariners out of cash and still needing a first baseman, catcher and right-handed DH. Additionally, there are concerns about whether a one-dimensional player like Bay, who hits for power but provides little else, would be worth a long-term investment in a park like Safeco Field that caters towards pitching.

Free-agent outfielder Matt Holliday offers more versatility than Bay but would need a similarly hand-cuffing contract to come aboard (he is represented by Scott Boras after all). A more budget friendly option is former Seattle Mariner Mike Cameron, who despite turning 36 last season, is still a plus defender in the outfield who offers good power and patience at the plate. The Mariners could probably ink Cameron to a one-year deal, limiting the risk if he performs poorly, which would also give Saunders another year to develop in Triple-A Tacoma. Other players to consider in left-field include Randy Winn, Jonny Gomes or Josh Willingham.

A breakout performer last year, Seattle would be happy to bring Branyan back at first base in 2010.

The Mariners got surprising production out of first base last season, with Russell Branyan taking advantage of his first chance to play full-time by slugging 31 HR’s and driving in 76 runs. The early indications seem to suggest that Seattle plans on bringing Branyan back for at least one more year, although he would probably be due a substantial raise over the $1.4 million dollars he earned in 2009. Branyan stated all season long that he owed it to the Mariners to resign with the club because they were the only team willing to give him a full-time role, but it remains to be seen whether that will hold true if another team offers him a lucrative deal.

If Seattle loses Branyan to another team they could replace him internally with Mike Carp, who performed admirably in a short trial last season (.315 in 54 AB’s), or they could pursue free-agent Nick Johnson. Though injury prone, the 31-year-old Johnson has one of the best batting eyes in the game (.426 OBP in 2009) and is a solid defensive first baseman who could fit comfortably into the Mariner’s lineup as their number three hitter. There has also been some speculation that Seattle would consider shifting second baseman Jose Lopez (a defensive liability up the middle) to first base and moving Matt Tuiasosopo (a third baseman in the minors) to second, a possibility now that the hot corner has been filled by Figgins.

Catcher was another gaping hole for the Mariners in 2009, with a disappointing season from Kenji Johjima and young catchers Rob Johnson and Adam Moore struggling to adjust to big league pitching. With Johjima back in Japan, the battle for starting catcher in 2010 will boil down to Johnson and Moore unless the Mariners try to acquire a catcher via free agency or trade. Johnson received praise from the pitching staff for his game-calling abilities but he hit only .213 with 2 HR’s and 27 RBI’s. Moore saw limited action with the Mariners, spending the majority of the season in the minor leagues, hitting a combined .287-13 HR’s-56 RBI’s between Double and Triple-A. S

eattle has been mentioned as a possible destination for free-agent catcher Miguel Olivo, a defensively-challenged backstop who hit 23 HR’s in only 390 AB’s last season. While Olivo has never shown the ability to draw a walk, he has consistently produced good power numbers and is the best player available in a very thin catching market. If the M’s could sign him to an incetive-laden one-year deal, Olivo is probably a worthwhile gamble; if he wants a multi-year deal Seattle is better off allowing Johnson and Moore to develop in the majors.

Could the former Mariner killer become a killer Mariner?

Designated hitter may have been the most popular position for Seattle in 2009, with clubhouse favorites Mike Sweeney and Ken Griffey Jr. manning the post, but it certainly wasn’t the most productive. Griffey’s back and figures to get the majority of at-bats against right-handed pitching; the Mariners hope he can rebound from a sub par return to the Emerald City last year (.214-19 HR’s-57 RBI’s). Seattle needs to find a player who hits left-handed pitching well to platoon with Griffey, but this year’s free agent crop is very thin in terms of quality hitters.

The M’s might have to take a flier on someone coming off an injury or a bad season. Some possible candidates include Xavier Nady, Olivo, Carlos Delgado or even longtime thorn-in-the-side Vladimir Guerrero. While Guerrero’s power has dipped in recent years, he would still be a significant upgrade over Sweeney as a part-time DH, and could become a solid run producer with Ichiro and Figgins at the top of the lineup.

As of today there are still 266 free agents available for the Mariners to sign, so despite the team’s need to fill multiple holes in their lineup, there’s no need to panic–yet. The Rangers’ lastest moves have upped the ante, but Jack Zduriencik has shown himself to be a very capable baseball man, and will work tirelessly to make Seattle a frontrunner for the 2010 AL West title.

The Mariners certainly have issues to address, but the pieces to build a title contender are out there; now it’s just up to the Mariners and their front office to fit them all together.

Mariners’ Monthly Roundup: August “Just Kind Of Hanging Around” Edition

King Felix showed no signs of slowing down in August.

King Felix showed no signs of slowing down in August. Is a Cy Young next?

Record: 15-14 (68-64 overall)

AL West Standings: L.A. (78-52); Texas 6 GB; Seattle 11 GB; Oakland 20.5 GB 

Top Hitter: Jose Lopez had a solid month of production at the dish (.258-6 HR-22 RBIs-10 2B) and Mike Sweeney took advantage of increased playing time (.333-2 HR-9 RBI-5 2B) but the best hitter on the team continues to be Mr. Consistency, Ichiro Suzuki. Despite missing 7 games with a calf injury, Ichiro hit his usual .340 with 2 HRs and 10 RBIs, in addition to swiping 3 bags and scoring 16 runs. Seattle’s offense went into a major funk without him at the top of the lineup and they were glad to welcome him back to the field last night. Suzuki is just 14 hits away from becoming the first player in major league history with 9 straight 200+ hit seasons and is also just 9 hits away from 2,000 in his MLB career. Yeah, he’s that good.

Top Pitcher(s): Felix Hernandez continued his breakout season with a sterling August that put him good position to make a run at the AL Cy Young Award (his teammates didn’t help the cause though, getting 1-hit by Zack Grienke). The flame-throwing right hander went 2-1 in the month with 2.70 ERA and 40 Ks in 40 innings. On the season, the 23-year-old Hernandez is 13-5 with a 2.77 ERA and 179 Ks in 185 innings, a vast improvement in all statistical areas from last year. Felix starts have become must-see TV, and Seattle has to begin worrying about whether he will stick around when he becomes a free-agent in two years. Translation: enjoy him while you can.

Langerhans doesn't go deep much, but when he does, game over.

Langerhans doesn't go deep often, but when he does...game over.

Biggest Surprise: Despite the fact that he’s hitting .211 on the season, Ryan Langerhans has provided Mariners’ fans with plenty of excitement. The soft-hitting lefty has drilled only 3 HRs on the season, but 2 of them are of the walk-off variety and both came in August (7th and 25th). An amazing 10-percent of his hits this season have been walk-off HRs, which becomes much less amazing when you consider Langerhans only has 20 hits on the year. At least he’s making them count.

Biggest Disappointment: Erik Bedard was shut down for the season on August 20th, adding further disappointment to his short tenure in Seattle. Bedard wasn’t bad when he pitched (5-3, 2.82 ERA in ’09) but rarely went deep into ballgames and struggled with injuries both seasons. With the continued growth of the players the M’s sent to Baltimore to acquire Bedard (Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, George Sherrill) this might go down as one of the worst trades in recent history (though not quite as bad as the Bartolo Colon for Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips and Cliff Lee deal).

Griffey Watch: Junior had his best month of the season in August, hitting  .246 with 4 HRs and 13 RBIs, which was highlighted by a pinch-hit walk-off single against the Chicago White Sox in the 14th inning of a thrilling 1-0 Seattle win. Griffey missed a couple of games at the end of the month with sore knees but is expected back in the lineup soon, and though Seattle is out of contention, should give fans a reason to attend M’s games during the last 5 weeks of the year. This may be your last chance to see one of the greatest ball players of all-time (currently sitting on 625 career HRs), so soak in his every at-bat, players like Griffey come along once in a generation.

Rookie Doug Fister has been a welcome addition to the M's staff.

Rookie Doug Fister has been a welcome addition to the M's.

Injuries: Endy Chavez (torn ACL–out for year); Russell Branyan (herniated disk in back–mid-September return, possibly out for season); Adrian Beltre (bruised testicle–should return September 1); Ichiro Suzuki (tight left calf–should return September 1); Carlos Silva (rotater cuff–set to begin rehab assignment, unfortunately); Erik Bedard (shoulder surgery–out for season).

Welcome Aboard: Doug Fister was called up from Triple-A Tacoma and did nothing but impress in his 5 August outings, going 1-1 with a 3.42 ERA and 18 Ks against 7 BBs. The 25-year-old is making a strong case to be a part of the Mariners rotation in 2010, and twirled a gem against the Angels last night (7.1 innings, 5 hits, 1 R). Fister takes a pitch-to-contact approach on the mound (2 walks or less in 4 of his 5 starts), relying on the M’s defense and the spacious confines of Safeco Field to keep hitters in check. So far, it’s worked.

September Schedule: 2 vs. LA; 4 @ Oakland; 4 @ LA; 3 @ Texas; 3 vs. Chicago; 3 vs. NYY; 2 @ TB; 4 @ Toronto; 2 vs. Oakland

Overall Grade: (B) The Mariners continue to hang around on the outskirts of the playoff picture and finished August with a winning record (15-14). Sure they aren’t the best team in the league, but this is a far cry from last year, and they are building some excitement towards the 2010 season. September should be a fun month, with expanded rosters giving fans a look at M’s of the future.