Mariners streak leads to 'cautious optimism'

Aug 2, 2012

So they CAN hit. That's what a lot fans are saying about the Mariners these days after the team has won seven games in a row - their longest winning streak in five years.

KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel shares his thoughts on the timing of the streak and what it means.

After Ichiro

Art says there was some relief in the Mariners clubhouse after Ichiro Suzuki was traded to the Yankees. He thinks it was more than coincidence that the team came alive once Ichiro was gone.

"It does free up a position to try young guys and see if they can be productive. And it gives Manager Eric Wedge an opportunity to not have to work around Ichiro's declining production. So, his departure is valuable and they're getting more production out of people. And a lot of it is just the maturity of these guys, as Eric Wedge and General Manager Jack Zduriencik had hoped."

Stepping up their game

Art says Ichiro had become a "square peg in a round hole" on the Mariners, with the amount of young players on the team and the rebuilding that was going on. Now, some of the young players who had been struggling are starting to come alive.

"I do see progress in guys like Michael Saunders, Kyle Seager, Jesus Montero. Not so much for this year, but they're only seven games under .500 and it's fun to see guys gaining confidence that they belong in the Major Leagues."

Promising new hitter?

Art says the team also appears to have been energized by what management did - and did not - do ahead of Tuesday's trade deadline.

They traded relief pitchers Brandon League and Steve Delabar. League went to the Dodgers for some minor league prospects. Delabar went to the Toronto Blue Jays for outfielder Eric Thames (the "h" is silent) - a left-handed hitter who Art says shows some promise.

"He seems to be, perhaps, a diamond in the rough. He hit a homerun on Wednesday night that went 411 feet and has the kind of power that the Mariners have been looking for from the outfield positions. I think they might have gotten somebody there who could be different."

Need to keep Vargas

Art says the biggest news from this week's trade deadline was that the Mariners kept No. 2 starting pitcher Jason Vargas. It was rumored that he might be traded.

"I think that was very important. Now urgency is upon the Mariners, I think, to get him signed to a long-term extension. Because I think a lot of fans have resented - even though there is logic to it - getting rid of premium pitchers such as Doug Fister and Michael Pineda. These guys had long-term futures with the Mariners but because they can't draw hitters to Safeco Field, they have to cannibalize their pitching in order to get young hitters with a lot of contract time such as Jesus Montero. So that was gratifying to most Mariner fans."

Art says the Mariners' winning streak may be a "false positive" but it puts them on a promising path.

"If they can build on the nucleus of young people they've got here, they may have something as early as next year. It's just that that promise has been made for 10 years and Mariner fans are still holding the re-embrace at arm's length."

You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest.