July 16, 2009 in Sports

M’s exude confidence heading into second half

Pitching staff stellar in first half
Kirby Arnold Everett Herald
 
File Associated Press photo

Felix Hernandez is 9-3 with a 2.53 ERA.
(Full-size photo)

SEATTLE – The analysts look at the Seattle Mariners and see a team that overachieved on its way to a 46-42 record.

The run differential – 348 scored vs. 366 allowed because of an offense that produces by the drip – shouldn’t add up to a contending team.

The best pitching in the American League somehow overcame the worst defense, if you go by numbers – a 3.73 ERA and a .979 fielding percentage.

Too many Mariners have played above their career numbers – first baseman Russell Branyan with 22 home runs and first-time closer David Aardsma with 20 saves, for example – to expect anything but a fallback between now and the end of September.

The smoke, mirrors and duct tape keeping the team intact through injuries to such key players as third baseman Adrian Beltre and left fielder Endy Chavez surely will be exposed.

The DH, whether it’s Ken Griffey Jr. or Mike Sweeney and their combined 41 RBIs, has provided a greater impact to team unity than run production.

Despite all that, the Mariners come back from the All-Star break tonight at Cleveland four games behind the first-place Angels in the West Division. And, amid signals that this is a team that could fade, the Mariners have something for the final phase of the season that they didn’t when they started.

Confidence.

“There is nobody in the world that expected us to be doing what we’re doing right now,” said starting pitcher Jarrod Washburn, one of the success stories himself with a 6-6 record and a 2.96 ERA.

“Coming into the season, I don’t know that we knew we would be doing this,” Washburn said. “We knew we would be better than last year and thought we would improve and turn it around. Now we’re at the point where we have convinced ourselves that we are for real.

“The difference between this year and last year is night and day.”

The biggest difference has been the pitching.

Felix Hernandez (9-3, 2.53 earned run average) and Washburn have been the constants in the starting rotation, which has been a revolving door behind them. Erik Bedard, despite his 5-2 record and 2.63 ERA, only recently came back from a tender shoulder and isn’t a pitcher the Mariners can count on going deep into games. Five others have gotten starts – Brandon Morrow, Garrett Olson, Jason Vargas, Chris Jakubauskas and Ryan Rowland-Smith – and the Mariners would love to have the back end of the rotation settled by the end of this month.

If the M’s can get seven innings from their starters, they’re confident that Mark Lowe and Aardsma will lock down opponents in the eighth and ninth. Not only does Aardsma have 20 saves at this point, he didn’t get the closer role until mid-May, after Morrow blew two games at Texas.

The Mariners need a spark offensively and that would seem to be one of general manager Jack Zduriencik’s objectives moving toward the trade deadline.

However, the M’s must decide where they would put another hitter and how much they want to mess with what now looks like a solid team defensively.

Griffey believes Seattle can make do with Wakamatsu’s small-ball approach.

“Get guys over and get ‘em in, that’s the important thing,” he said. “We started hot, cooled off a little and now we are focused on doing those little things again.

“As long as we keep doing the little things, we’ll be fine. We don’t need to hit a lot of home runs. It doesn’t matter how you score runs as long as you score them.”

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