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A gathering place for sports analysis and opinion with Seattle Times sports columnist Jerry Brewer.

August 2, 2012 at 6:28 AM

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Seven truths about the Mariners' seven-game winning streak

RyanRutz.jpg
Photo credit: Dean Rutz/The Seattle Times
Brendan Ryan and the Mariners have had plenty to celebrate the past seven games.

For once, the Mariners are bursting with positive storylines. They've won seven games in a row, eight of their last 10 and 14 of their last 19. Since the All-Star break, their record is 14-6, and they have won four of six series.

How hot are they? So hot they've brought this blog back to life.

Here are seven of my observations about the Mariners' seven-game winning streak. They're so indisputable that I'm calling them truths. I'm sure you'll agree because we always do, right?

Truth No. 1: Dismissing them for feasting on two last-place teams is too simple-minded because they've overcome perhaps their greatest foe -- their ballpark.

Remember all that talk about how the Mariners can't hit at Safeco Field? Well, it still very much applies, but the winning streak has been either a seven-game reprieve or hope that the struggles won't last forever.

In the past seven games, the Mariners have hit .310 with a .447 slugging percentage at home and averaged 5.3 runs. For a team that's hitting 207 with a .301 slugging percentage and averaging 3.1 runs per game through 53 home games, the past seven games are nothing to overlook.

Yes, their opponents, Kansas City and Toronto, represent two of the American League's four worst pitching staffs. But the Mariners have made plenty of bad pitchers look like All-Stars at Safeco this season. Any small triumph over their most potent challenger -- their ballpark -- shouldn't be taken lightly.

Truth No. 2: The switch from Justin Smoak to Mike Carp at first base has been a game changer.

During this streak, Carp has been the star that many hoped he would be after his encouraging end to last season. Carp is hitting .458 with a 1.148 on-base-plus slugging percentage. He also has scored six runs and collected five RBI. He joins shortstop Brendan Ryan (.450 average) as the hottest Mariners the past seven games.

Carp has raised his batting average from .146 to .212, and if he stays hot, he just might turn around a disappointing, injury-plagued season.

Smoak was demoted to Class AAA Tacoma on July 23, creating the opportunity for Carp at his natural position. The Mariners are now 8-1 since Smoak was sent down.

The debate is already beginning over whether the Mariners should commit to Carp over Smoak long term at first base, and it will only intensify. The 26-year-old Carp is only five months older than Smoak. While the Mariners will and should give Smoak every chance to develop, competition at the position would be great for the organization. It's on Carp to make sure that it develops into one.

Truth No. 3: For this team, Casper Wells in right field is a much better fit than Ichiro.

Let's be clear: I'm not saying Wells is better than the future Hall of Famer. But on this team, his youth and the pop in his bat are an ideal match.

The Mariners are 8-2 since they traded Ichiro to the New York Yankees. What does that mean? Contrary to what some might try to do, I'm not going to speak ill of Ichiro, who is a great, if aging, player. But his absence has made it easier in some ways because there are no politics anymore about how much to play Ichiro and where to have him bat in the order. Manager Eric Wedge can do whatever he wants without making headlines.

Ichiro had always been an odd fit in right field because he doesn't hit for power. When he was hitting .330 and winning Gold Gloves, it was easy to justify because he was such a unique asset. When he went into decline, it became a burden. Now, moving on has been refreshing.

Wells, who can play all three outfield positions, has shifted from left to right and started the bulk of the time since the Ichiro trade. Carlos Peguero received a brief look, but he struggled too much. Wells has been just fine offensively and defensively in right field. In his six starts in right field, Wells is hitting .286. Ichiro left Seattle with a .261 average. His .708 OPS isn't great for a right fielder, but it's better than the .643 that Ichiro put up.

Of course, it's a small sample size, and the Mariners would be wise to shop around for a more proven right fielder in the offseason. But for now, Wells is an upgrade for the team overall, even though he might not be a better pure player than his predecessor.

Truth No. 4: Felix Hernandez is the man, but Jason Vargas is the best pitching storyline.

Vargas is 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA during this streak. During July, he was 5-0 with a 1.64 ERA in six starts. He has now taken a slight lead over King Felix in WHIP (1.14 compared to Hernandez's 1.15).

How good has Vargas been? It's crazy to think that Hernandez, the Mariners' franchise player, is 5-0 with a 1.60 ERA over his last nine starts (Seattle is 7-2 in those games), and he's being overshadowed. That has more to do with the fact that we've seen this from Hernandez before, and Vargas is revealing something new. Still, it goes to show that the Mariners have both an ace and a capable sidekick.

If the Mariners had found a good trade for Vargas before the deadline, I would've understood the need to make a deal. But he's a valuable commodity, even though the Mariners are blessed with some young, top-end pitching prospects. They should seriously consider working out a long-term contract extension with Vargas after the season.

Truth No. 5: This isn't 1995 reincarnated.

Pause for perspective. Plenty of people are having fun with the winning streak, and that's exciting to see. It has been nice to change the conversation from venomous to giddy. But while the Mariners are 50-57 now and only 7 1/2 games out of the second wild-card spot, I just don't see a team capable of making a miraculous playoff push. They appear primed to finish with a record way closer to .500 than even the greatest optimist could've imagined. But they'll have to do more than terrorize the Royals, Blue Jays and Yu Darvish to make a compelling case that they're sneaking into the postseason picture.

Their next 12 games will be telling. They're all against teams with winning records, and nine of those games are on the road, starting with a three-game series against the Yankees on Friday. If the Mariners emerged from that stretch with, say, an 8-4 record, then we can start talking about miracle rallies.

Truth No. 6: General manager Jack Zduriencik's youth movement is gaining credibility.

Jack Z needed this for evidence that his plan is working. Now that we've seen a good glimpse, we should leave him alone and let him go about fixing this organization. There's still plenty of time for a relapse, but the Mariners truly are getting somewhere. I've questioned that at times this season (while also hedging a little because I think Zduriencik knows talent, and it would be a disaster if the Mariners didn't let him finish his work), but this post-All-Star break stretch shows 20 games of good baseball, not just a seven-game hot streak. And unlike last season, the Mariners didn't trade away half their pitching rotation at the deadline, so there's hope they will keep playing well.

Truth No. 7: Dustin Ackley is officially off the send-him-to-Tacoma hot seat.

Ackley's past seven games: .321 average, .923 OPS, six runs scored, five RBI. It's quite the response considering that he suffered through an 0-for-20 stretch in the five games before that.

Ackley seems rejuvenated right now. He's squaring up the ball again. We'll see how long it lasts. The Mariners desperately need him to finish the season showing signs that he'll become the hit machine that most expected him to be.

***
OK, the floor is yours. Feel free to add your truths -- or even myths -- to this list.


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