Monday, June 26, 2017

Monday Mariners Briefing: June's hot bats keeping M's afloat

Posted By on Mon, Jun 26, 2017 at 3:16 PM

Monday Mariners Briefing: June's hot bats keeping M's afloat
Rookie outfielder Ben Gamel, hitting .346, has been a pleasant surprise for the Mariners this season.

A month ago, things weren't looking so good for the Seattle Mariners. After five losses in six East Coast games against the Washington Nationals and Boston Red Sox, the Mariners' injury woes seemed insurmountable.

The M's were seven games under .500, in the AL West cellar, and nearly had the American League's worst record. With Felix Hernandez, Hishashi Iwakuma and James Paxton on the disabled list, the back of the rotation — Ariel Miranda and Yovanni Gallardo — was asked to keep the USS Mariner afloat.

With a strong showing in Colorado to finish May and start June, the Mariners went on a torrid 10-4 run, beating the Rockies, Tampa Bay Rays and Minnesota Twins. Mike Zunino has had himself quite a month, hitting nine home runs and driving in 30 runs (most ever in a month for a Mariners catcher). Zunino entered the month hitting an abysmal .190, which has since risen to .247. Over that span, he's nearly doubled his on-base plus slugging percentage to .802 (on average, a dependable everyday player should be around .700).

But the most satisfying part of the Mariners' resurgence has been the trio of rookie outfielders — Ben Gamel, Guillermo Heredia and Mitch Haniger. Last year's outfield was the glaring weakness of a surprisingly average team. Heading into this season, it was hoped that maybe one of the three young outfielders could pair with veteran Jarrod Dyson to make a halfway respectable outfield. Instead, the three are pushing Dyson out of playing time.

In the absence of high-average leadoff hitter, shortstop Jean Segura, Gamel leads the Mariners with a .394 average for the month of June. After an oblique injury sidelined him for more than a month, Haniger was immediately injected into the No. 2 spot and has been regaining his timing on the fly; he hasn't quite seen his average and power return to his hot opening to the season, but has remained a high on-base-percentage guy who becomes a table-setter for power bats Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz.

The Mariners started their homestand with a four-game sweep of the up-and-down Detroit Tigers. They were able to stay in games, proving their lineup's ability to get hot and win games late. The most notable was in the sixth inning against Justin Verlander, who was at the time throwing a perfect game. The Mariners piled on seven runs in the sixth and seventh against  Verlander and the Tigers.

Last week saw the return of Felix Hernandez, the starting pitcher in the Mariners' sole victory against the team with the majors' best record, as Seattle routed the Houston Astros 13-3 on Friday night. Hernandez struggled with his command, but was able to make Astros batters miss. The Astros won the weekend series' final two games, with lackluster outings from Miranda and Sam Gaviglio.

The Mariners stand at .500 (39-39) and are 2 games back in the wild-card race. They finish the homestand against Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday and Wednesday and head down to Anaheim to face the Angels to close out June and begin July.

After a troubling rehab start in Tacoma, it's unclear exactly when Hisashi Iwakuma will start again for Seattle. He was set to return this week, but GM Jerry Dipoto has removed any timetable for Iwakuma, telling Danny, Dave and Moore of Seattle's 710 ESPN that the plan is now for him to pitch "again sometime in 2017."

The Mariners have a chance to go on a tear, with the Phillies struggling mightily at 24-50 and an Angels team still playing without five-time All-Star and two-time AL MVP Mike Trout. Aside from the 40-39 Angels, the Mariners aren't likely to play a winning team until after the All-Star break. By then, they should expect to most of their projected starting rotation nearly back.

That won't include left-hander Drew Smyly, who will undergo Tommy John surgery on his left elbow next week and will miss the rest of the 2017 season, and likely all or most of the 2018 season as well.

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