5 Takeaways from Seattle Mariners' Opening Week
The first week of the 2014 season is in the books for the Seattle Mariners, who are off to one of the better starts in Major League Baseball with a record of 4-2. The Mariners handily swept the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim before losing two of three to the Oakland Athletics in a series that was shortened due to a bizarre cancellation last Friday night.
Six games is too small of a sample size to draw any major conclusions, but it’s been a few years since the Mariners started this well. Here are five takeaways from Seattle’s strong opening week.
Robinson Cano Is as Advertised
There was no reason to think Cano would suffer a drop-off in production in his age-31 season, and so far, Seattle’s new second baseman has shown why he commanded such a massive contract. Cano is hitting .391 with two doubles and two RBI while getting on base at a .500 clip and playing smooth defense. The only thing missing from Cano’s first week was a home run, but those will come if he keeps hitting the ball so well.
Cano is also making those in the lineup around him better. Abraham Almonte and Brad Miller are going to see more pitches to hit batting in front of Cano, and both have hit well. Justin Smoak has eight RBI already and has been making teams pay for walking Cano.
Felix Hernandez Is in Cy Young Form
Hernandez was dominant in his two starts, totaling 14.1 innings pitched with 10 hits and three earned runs allowed while striking out a MLB-high 19 batters. He only made two bad pitches all week: a two-run home run given up to Mike Trout in the first inning on Opening Day and a solo shot to Jed Lowrie while trying to close out a complete game on Saturday.
Trout told Pedro Moura of the Orange County Register that Hernandez “flipped a switch and went into nasty mode” after the Angels scored three runs off of him. He was even better against Oakland, looking downright unhittable until the ninth inning.
If Hernandez keeps pitching at this level, he will win a lot of games behind Seattle’s improved offense and be in contention for his second career Cy Young Award.
James Paxton Is Emerging into a Star
Paxton tends to be a little overshadowed by the buzz surrounding phenom Taijuan Walker, but he's quickly turning into a young star in his own right. Control issues plagued Paxton in his early minor league career, but he has now made four brilliant starts in the major leagues following last Wednesday’s electrifying performance.
The young left-hander shut down the Angels over seven innings, allowing just four baserunners and striking out nine. A mid-90s lively fastball and plus curveball give Paxton the tools he needs to be a young star pitcher. Paxton told Greg Johns of MLB.com that the start might have been the best of his career.
"This was right up there with that Kansas City start last year," said Paxton, who pitched seven shutout innings with 10 strikeouts against the Royals at the end of 2013. "I got in a groove and just felt really good."
Paxton will get to showcase his stuff in front of a packed Safeco Field in the Mariners’ home opener Tuesday night against the Angels.
Abraham Almonte Needs to Control His Aggressive Style
Overall, Almonte was impressive this week at the plate with seven hits and five RBI. He has tremendous upside, but Almonte showed he is a bit raw with an adventurous week on the basepaths and in the field.
Take Almonte’s performance against the Athletics on Thursday night, which had a bit of everything. His speed and aggressive baserunning helped force Oakland to make two errors on the first play of the game, with Almonte ending up at second. He advanced on a sacrifice fly and a groundout, generating a run out of nothing.
Later in the game, Almonte was thrown out at third after failing to notice that Dustin Ackley had not taken off for home. Almonte also misjudged a dive on a line drive to center field, allowing Sam Fuld an RBI triple that was inches away from an inside-the-park home run.
An aggressive style is not a negative for a player like Almonte, but Lloyd McClendon and the rest of Seattle’s coaches need to help him become a little less wild.
The Bullpen Is Still a Question Mark
Last year was a disaster for the Mariners bullpen, which allowed opponents to score the winning run in their last at-bat a whopping 27 times. With a couple of new faces and a cast of typically inconsistent relievers, the bullpen was a question mark heading into 2014.
Seattle’s bullpen wasn’t necessarily bad as a whole this week, but it didn’t give the Mariners many reasons to be confident, either. The most important development was likely the rough outing for Tom Wilhelmsen in last Thursday’s loss to Oakland, as he walked three batters in one inning and lost a one-run lead.
On the plus side, closer Fernando Rodney has looked good in his two appearances after a terrible spring. Hector Noesi was also finally designated for assignment, with the talented 22-year-old Dominic Leone replacing him.