Analysis: Mariners lineup more dynamic, but is it good enough to catch Astros?
March 31, 2023 Updated Fri., March 31, 2023 at 5:32 p.m.
SEATTLE – In chasing down a playoff berth last season, the Mariners’ offense became largely one-dimensional.
Riding big swings from Eugenio Suarez, Cal Raleigh and Julio Rodriguez, the Mariners ranked second in the American League, and third in the majors, in home runs in the season’s second half. Only the Yankees and Braves (with 121 each) hit more home runs than the Mariners (113) over the final 82 games of the regular season.
Hey, any way you can win ’em, right?
Entering what might be the most anticipated season in franchise history, the Mariners believe they’ve constructed a deeper and more dynamic lineup that’s capable of producing on a more consistent level in 2023.
That, no doubt, is the one thing the Mariners must do if they hope to chase down the Astros in the AL West.
“I think we’re a complete lineup now,” first baseman Ty France said before Thursday’s season opener. “I don’t think it’s going to take Julio, Geno, Cal hitting homers every single game.”
The Mariners didn’t make a major splash on a hitter in free agency, as many fans had hoped they would. Some still believe they’re probably one good hitter away from being a legitimate World Series contender.
The PECOTA projections system, for example, expects the Mariners to score 681 runs this season – nine fewer than they scored in 2022, when they ranked 28th in MLB in batting average (.230) and 16th in runs (4.26 per game).
The Mariners did add veteran slugger Teoscar Hernandez to hit in the middle of the lineup. He batted cleanup in his first game in an M’s uniform Thursday and was 0 for 4. He projects as an upgrade in right field over Mitch Haniger, who played in just 57 games in an injury-riddled 2022 season before departing in free agency.
Second baseman Kolten Wong, another new addition, hit second behind Rodriguez in the opening day lineup Thursday against Cleveland ace Shane Bieber and was 0 for 3. Wong, a left-handed hitter, could be a regular at the No. 2 spot in the lineup against right-handed pitchers.
Another veteran newcomer, the left-handed-hitting Tommy La Stella, batted eighth as the designated hitter, a spot the Mariners plan to use as a rotation, and was also 0 for 3.
Manager Scott Servais is counting on that added experience and depth – and the elimination of the infield shift – to create more on-base opportunities up and down the lineup.
“I think our offense this year is more balanced than it has been,” Servais said. “We’ll see how it plays out. We’ve got a lot of baseball ahead of us. But I like the look of our lineup (with) the left to right combos. We’ve got young players; we’ve got some veteran guys. It’s a really good mix, and I’m anxious to see how that plays out.”
It’s reasonable that the Mariners should be able to expect even more from Rodriguez in his second season, and it’s fair to dream about Raleigh’s potential hitting in the middle of the order for an entire season.
France, batting third, had the Mariners’ first hit of the season in the first inning, added a double off the top of the wall in right-center in the sixth, and won the game with a three-run homer in the eighth.
Suarez, batting sixth, doubled in his first at-bat against Bieber.
It’s a lineup with some pop. That we know. But can it be more?
There remains tantalizing potential in Jarred Kelenic, who after his torrid spring in the Cactus League started in left field and batted seventh Thursday.
He struck out looking on a 3-2 slider in his first at-bat but hit a ground-ball single through the right side of the infield in his second plate appearance – the kind of hit that would have surely been an easy 4-3 putout against the shift in his first two seasons in the majors
“I think he’s in an awesome spot right now,” Servais said. “I give a ton of credit to him. He’s continued to work, and not just so much on the mechanics of his swing but in his approach. And that’s what’s really stood out to me. He’s swinging at the right pitches. It doesn’t mean he’s not going to chase a ball in the dirt once in a while or one over his head. It happens to everybody.
“But his ability to just let that go and focus on the next pitches is as good as I’ve ever seen from Jarred. And it should serve him well.”
And, if it continues, it should serve this lineup especially well.
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