First of all a big thanks to Jerry Allen in the TNT IT department for getting me set up with a new laptop and also thanks to Shelly Wiseman and Mike Bainter, who got my Verizon aircard activated so I could check my email and scan the net from the scenic Detroit airport (no I haven't been mugged yet).
The second part of the season begins today in Cleveland. And to be perfectly honest, I have no idea what to expect. Why? Because this team hasn't been anything like I expected when the season started. Obviously it's been better than most of could have imagined way back in April.
And because of that, we're entering a time of the season, where we fully expected the Mariners and general manager Jack Zduriencik to be reshaping the roster by dealing the likes of Erik Bedard, Jarrod Washburn, Adrian Beltre, Miguel Batista and anybody else not named Felix, Franklin and Ichiro for younger talent.
Instead, the Mariners are 46-42 and four games behind the Angels, who are at 49-37
So we've been stuck in a month-long debate of whether or not the Mariners are "buyers" or "sellers." But I'm not a believer it has to be one or the other. Just ask Yuniesky Betancourt about that. You can trade established parts and yet still be trying to win. It isn't simple. Yet it's possible. And if any GM could do it, I have faith in Jack Zduriencik based on what he's done so far. It's kind of an odd feeling not viewing midseason deals as disasters waiting to happen like in the past, but as potential improvements for a team.
On the Mariners roundtable discussion on KJR the other day, we discussed the second half and tried to predict what's going to happen. However, those predictions should all be predicated on what happens over the next few weeks as the trade deadline approaches and where the Mariners sit in the AL West standings. But it's still kind of fun to predict what's going to happen. Rarely do I get things right (I picked the Arizona D'Backs to win the NL West at the beginning of the season.) But its still fun to pick and pontificate.
Here's a few questions – some based on readers comments and e-mails and others I came up with myself - that I answered as well. Feel free to answer them and offer your opinion as to why you think this way …
Will Erik Bedard be a member of the Seattle Mariners at the end of the season?
My answer: Probably not. As I said the other day, if he has two good starts coming out of the break, he could command enough to really help the Mariners in the future. I honestly think he could help the Mariners more in the players he could return than he could in the second half of the season.
Don't get me wrong, if they keep him, he'll help. If he's even at 80 percent of himself, he's better than 2/3 of the pitchers in baseball. But I don't think he will make or break the Mariners in terms of making a push in the second half of the season.
I know people have talked about Washburn being the more coveted pitcher on the market. Talent still wins out in my mind and Bedard has more talent, which Washburn wouldn't disagree with. Also, the Mariners could look to deal Bedard simply because he could command more in return than Washburn would.
How about Jarrod Washburn?
My answer: I said the other day that he probably stays and I wouldn't be surprised if they re-signed him to maybe a two to three-year deal. Just because he's a cost-effective alternative to someone like Bedard. Washburn is also more reliable in terms of innings pitched. To think ahead about the Mariner rotation, we know that Felix, Morrow will most likely be there, along with possibly Rowland-Smith and Vargas. They'll probably try Silva, but having Washburn return would be a low-cost investment for the short term future.
Will Adrian Beltre play another game in Safeco Field this season?
My answer: Yep. The guy is tough. The guy is addicted to playing and if the Mariners are even some semblance of striking distance for the AL West title, he'll come back and want to be a part of it.
But I don't know if he'll play another game in Safeco after this season, at least not in a Mariners uniform. There were rumblings that the Angels would be interested in him for next season, but that was if he's completely healthy. These shoulder issues have to have reduced his value on some level.
Will Jeff Clement wear a Seattle Mariners uniform before the September call-ups?
My answer: I keep trying to think of scenarios in which Clement could be called up to help the Mariners. And nearly everyone would involve Griffey or Branyan getting hurt and going on the disabled list.
Clement is still hitting at Tacoma. He's not putting up the ridiculous numbers that he did last season, but they are still good. But he hasn't caught a game in more than two months and we've seen from Wakamatsu the emphasis he places on defense at the catching position. Clement is starting to play more first base, but he's a DH now.
Right now, I'm leaning towards no.
Who will join the Mariners rotation first and why, Brandon Morrow or Ryan Rowland-Smith?
My answer: I think it will be Ryan Rowland-Smith. The big lefty pitched like the guy we saw last year at the end of the season where we began thinking he could earn a spot in the rotation this season.
I watched him the other day and his breaking ball was excellence, the velocity on his fast ball (stadium gun) was at 89-92 consistently and he worked with rhythm and pace. He's not an overpowering guy like Morrow, but Rowland-Smith has a maturity level and confidence that Morrow lacks, especially in his secondary pitches. If a spot start is needed, Rowland-Smith will be the guy.
Morrow is down now, and there's no reason to bring him back until he finds the confidence and command in his breaking pitches. It's time to exercise some patience with him, something that we haven't seen since he was drafted.
Will Ronny Cedeno finish the season hitting over .200?
My answer: He can't keep hitting this poorly for the rest of the season. Or can he? Cedeno has just 24 hits in 143 at-bats for a stellar .168 batting average. If former Mariner Mario Mendoza became known for hitting at.200 and the now famous Mendoza line, what about hitting at .175? Would that be the Cedeno line? Perhaps of those 143 at-bats, he has 41 strikeouts. It's one thing to make outs, but at least put the ball in play.
I truly believe that Cedeno is not, or can not, be this poor of a hitter. He just can't. But can Seattle wait for him to come around to be at least average offensively or will they make a move.
Who will catch more games in the second half of the season Rob Johnson or Kenji Johjima?
My answer: Obviously the numbers are skewed in the first half with Johnson having started 41 games and Johjima has started 32 games. But Johjima did have a few trips to the disabled list. Still, it appears that Johnson has won the favor and trust of Wakamatsu and the three top pitchers in the rotation. Since Johjima returned from his latest stint on the DL, the M's have played 16 games and they've each caught eight with Johnson catching Washburn, Bedard and Felix and Joh getting Olson, Morrow and Vargas. I have no problem if they give them equal time. It's not as if Joh has shown to be drastically better offensively than Johnson. He is a better offensively, but does it make up for the runs he gives up behind the plate?
I do believe this: I would expect Johnson to catch the bulk of Bedard's and Washburn's starts. Wak has said he isn't using personal catchers, but he can be creative when deciding which guy catches which pitcher.
How many saves will David Aardsma finish the season with?
My answer: Aardsma will finish with more than 40. Not bad for a guy that had no saves in his career. He has 20 at the break with just two blown saves. He's been consistent, and the command of his fastball has been better than ever in his career.
How many home runs will Russell Branyan finish with?
He leads the Mariners with 22 home runs at the break, which has him tied for second most in the AL with Nelson Cruz and two behind Carlos Pena. Branyan has made the most of his chance with the Mariners, but he's also a different hitter. He still strikes out a lot (95) but he's more disciplined at the plate and his .280 batting average and his .382 on-base and .573 slugging percentage have to be vastly more than even the most optimistic Mariners fan could expect.
I think he will continue to produce for the Mariners. Still, the dog days of summer await and Branyan will never have had as many at-bats in his career that he's on pace to have this season. He's already at 286 at-bats, his career high came in 2002 when he had 378 for the season. He's on base for more than 500 this season. At age 34, fatigue and minor injuries take their toll on production. But I think he'll hit 44. It will be a career high and the most for the Mariners since Richie Sexson hit 39 in 2005. The last Mariners player to hit 40 or more was in 2000 when A-Rod hit 41.
How many wins will finish will Felix Hernandez finish with?
My answer: He's 9-3 in 18 starts. He probably should be 11-3 at best. But in is last nine starts he was 5-0 with a 1.19 ERA. Assuming he makes 15 to 16 starts at the least in the second half, is it impossible to think he wins another nine? No, it isn't. Of course, pitching on a team with an anemic offense takes its toll on victories. I'm saying he goes into his final start with 19 wins and well, then, I think we all know what happens then.
Will Ichiro win the AL batting title, if not who?
Yes, he will. He's hitting .362. His direct competition right now is Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer is at .373 and Tampa Bay shortstop Jason Bartlett at .347, both of whom are right at the near minimum of at-bats needed to be eligible. Ichiro has 354 at-bats, Mauer has just 241 abs, and Barlett has 248 abs since they have only played in just under 70 games, while Ichiro has played in 80 and that's with missing eight games to start the season.
And because he plays every day with his days off spent at DH, Ichiro will have significantly more ABS than either at the end of the season. Yet it won't matter. He's locked in, he's always loved baseball and this season he's enjoying it and he will win the batting title.
Will the Mariners score more runs than they've given up --- right now they've scored 348 runs and given up 366 runs?
My answer: If they do it won't be by more than 10 or 15. But it doesn't seem likely. The roster as it is now, is simply not going to score a lot of runs. A real big offensive outburst for them would be six runs in a game. The absence of Adrian Beltre for an extended period and the probable slight regression of Russell Branyan's production and the pitching staff's performance will make it most likely impossible to allow the M's to score more runs than they've given up.
How many wins will the Mariners finish the season with?
My answer: 84 wins and I think that may be pushing it a little since they still have two more series with the Yankees, two more with Tampa Bay, two more with Detroit and two with Texas, two with the White Sox and two with the Angels – all teams with winning records and with postseason aspirations.. The only series against teams with losing records are Cleveland twice, Oakland three times and Kansas City twice.
Is it good enough to win the AL West?
Unfortunately, no it won't be. It will be about three games shy of winning the West. But don't take my word for it, after all the D'Backs are 38-51 right now.