Second half gives Seattle reason to be optimistic
Cano's surge, new hitting coach contribute to offensive turnaround
SEATTLE -- Even as the Mariners' playoff hopes soured in the second half, their offense has soared. As Seattle opens its final road trip of the season Friday, it's impossible not to wonder what would have been if the club had hit from the start.
Despite dealing pitchers J.A. Happ and Mark Lowe and outfielders Dustin Ackley and Austin Jackson for prospects, the Mariners are 24-19 since the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline and 10-5 in September.
But with 15 games remaining, the Mariners are 6 1/2 games out of an American League Wild Card spot entering Thursday's off-day, their playoff hopes down to 0.1 percent, according to Baseball Prospectus' postseason probabilities. A bad first half -- 10 games under .500 in the first three months -- doomed a season of high expectations.
What solace Seattle can find now comes from at least knowing that its offense appears to have found its footing in the second half, with most of the current core under contract going forward.
The Mariners put up just a .236/.296/.382 slash line prior to the All-Star break, ranking last in the AL in batting average, 14th in on-base percentage and 13th in slugging percentage.
But since the All-Star break, Seattle ranks sixth in batting average (.267), fifth in on-base percentage (.331) and second in slugging percentage (.455). Those are significant improvements, and two reasons for it seem apparent -- the strong second-half turnaround by Robinson Cano and the impact of new hitting coach Edgar Martinez.
Since Martinez replaced Howard Johnson on June 20, the team has hiked its batting average from .233 to .261 and its runs per game from 3.4 to 4.6.
"[Martinez] has done a good job," said Lloyd McClendon, himself a hitting coach for eight years for the Tigers before becoming the Mariners' manager last year. "Edgar works hard, the players like him. The fact is, our players are doing better. They're swinging the bats better. We're so quick to give guys the blame, so when players do good, give them the credit. Our guys have gotten better, and rightfully so, he should get the credit."
Cano has been the biggest single factor, hitting .325 with 12 home runs and a .909 OPS in 67 games since July 1 after batting .238 with four homers and a .621 OPS in 74 games over the first three months. Seattle clearly needs Cano hitting in the middle of its order to make things click.
But Cano hasn't been the only hitter to heat up in the second half. After batting .139 with one homer and five RBIs in his first 22 games following his June 3 acquisition from the D-backs, Mark Trumbo has quietly become a force hitting behind Cano and Nelson Cruz.
Trumbo, who will be arbitration-eligible next year before becoming a free agent in 2017, has hit .297 with 11 homers and 32 RBIs in his last 60 games.
"[Trumbo is] starting to settle in real nice, and I don't think it's potential, I think it's proven," McClendon said. "He has a track record of hitting home runs and driving in runs, but he's also a leader in a lot of respects. I think he's starting to become comfortable with his teammates, and he's starting to lead on the field, and he has a tremendous desire to win. He's a pleasure to have on this club."
The 29-year-old Trumbo acknowledges it took him time to stop pressing following the midseason trade.
"You try to fit in as quick as possible, but now is a complete 180 from a matter of months ago," Trumbo said. "You know everyone, you know their personalities, you just feel like you're a part of something. You want to make a good impression. You want to contribute. There's always a reason you're brought somewhere, and obviously my job was to drive in runs. I'm not an elite defender or a plus runner, so I kind of do what I do, and if I'm doing it, great. If not, it's rough."
Cruz and Kyle Seager have been strong contributors throughout the season, though Seager has been red hot of late as well. And rookie shortstop Ketel Marte seems to have sparked the Mariners as a switch-hitting speed threat in the leadoff role since he was called up on July 31. Seattle is 23-16 with Marte batting first.
Veteran outfielder Franklin Gutierrez has also made a significant contribution since he was promoted from Tacoma on June 24, batting .317 with 13 homers and 33 RBIs in 48 games, and Brad Miller has hit .291 in 37 games since July 28.
Gutierrez is the only free agent in the Mariners' offensive group. The only other pending free agents on the roster are pitchers Hisashi Iwakuma and Joe Beimel.