A 4-2 road trip isn't going to save the season for the long-out-of-contention Seattle Mariners, but the team gave fans a rare reason to feel a bit of optimism.
It was refreshing to see the team play well, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, and competing with he likes of the Texas Rangers and Cincinnati Reds. However, the most important factor in the two series was the individual players that were playing well.
Namely, second basemen Nick Franklin and shortstop Brad Miller, two of the most important position players for determining the future of general manager Jack Zduriencik, had encouraging road swings. Kyle Seager snapped out of a slump in a big way, Justin Smoak showed some positivity and even the ice cold Michael Saunders had a home run.
The opening game of the trip on July 2, a 9-2 win over Texas, was a fleetingly brief glimpse of what the Mariners' lineup could be. Smoak, Seager, and Dustin Ackley all had doubles. Franklin added two hits while batting second. Kendrys Morales provided the long-lost fearsome bat in the middle of the order with two home runs and six RBIs. The consistency isn't there offensively yet, but there is some potential.
Almost unbelievably, the Mariners have now hit a home run in 15 straight games, with the diminutive Franklin being one of the reasons why. Franklin launched two first-inning homers in the series against the Reds, including one off of a tough pitcher in Mike Leake. It's only 37 games in, but Franklin has a solid .830 OPS, to go along with 6 home runs and 9 doubles.
In just the seventh game of his major league career on July 5, the considerable amount of pressure on Miller increased, as he was moved to the leadoff spot for the entire Reds series. The rookie responded well, lacing two line drive triples. Along with good speed, Miller has displayed patience - three walks in the game July 6 brought his total up to five in 35 plate appearances, and his walk rate stands at 16.1% at all levels in 2013. He's striking out often and not hitting for a high average, but Miller's talent became apparent over the weekend.
The two youngsters add potential options to the Mariners lineup to allow manager Eric Wedge to run more, an element that has been severely lacking so far. Miller and Franklin have nearly one-quarter of Seattle's 30 stolen bases, despite playing in a combined 46 games.
While not showing it as much statistically, catcher Mike Zunino also had some encouraging at-moments. Facing Derek Holland with the bases loaded July 3, Zunino worked a full count in an eight pitch at-bat while laying off several offspeed pitches before smacking an RBI single. Considering his struggles with strikeouts and curveballs at AAA Tacoma, it was a very positive sequence for the 22 year-old.
Of course, the two games that the Mariners lost on the road trip were marred by mistakes typical of a young team. Defensive issues, mental lapses on the basepaths, and horrific hitting with runners in scoring position all played major roles. Things particularly got out of hand July 6, when the Reds blew out the Mariners 13-4. The team will have more games like that one over the second half of the season, but will be worth watching for situations like one in the first inning July 5: a Miller triple, followed by a Franklin home run.
Nathaniel Reeves is a lifelong Seattle sports follower who is studying journalism at the University of Washington. He currently covers sports for The UW Daily.
- Sports & Recreation
- Seattle Mariners
- Nick Franklin
- Cincinnati Reds