Series 27 Preview: Cubs at Mariners
Hisashi Iwakuma has been excellent in the rotation this year for Seattle. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Much like the Mets team the Cubs faced a couple of weeks ago, the Mariners have ended up with a few veteran success stories mixed with several prospect failures. It’s a far more concerning outcome for GM Jack Zduriencik’s rebuild than their 34-45 record and fourth-place rank in the standings might indicate. The offense has been terrible, though it’s hard to get a read on Safeco Field’s impact on run scoring after its dimensions were reduced last winter. The pitching hasn’t been much better yet—at least beyond the outstanding front duo of Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. The Cubs will see the latter but miss the former in this weekend’s three-game set. Most of Seattle’s future hopes now hinge upon a bevy of high-ceiling arms, headed by Taijuan Walker, who was just promoted to Triple-A.
HITTING: 3.6 Runs Scored/Game (15th in the AL)
There’s not all that much to see here, particularly with the continued disappointments of catcher-turned-DH Jesus Montero, infielder-turned-outfielder Dustin Ackley and first baseman Justin Smoak. Catcher Mike Zunino hasn’t been the answer either, though he looks like he’s pushed Montero off of backstop for good. That said, there have been a few bright spots amongst the youngsters selected after Ackley (who was second overall) in the 2009 draft. Switch-hitting second baseman Nick Franklin (27th overall) pairs a good glove with a solid contact bat and some pop, and he has pushed Ackley to the outfield after a brief demotion. Third baseman Kyle Seager (third round) is now in his third partial big league season, and he’s shown consistent improvement in all areas. Center fielder Franklin Gutierrez is a cornerstone when available—he’s not this series—but he has also cleared 30 years old. Beyond that, there’s little optimism that comes with 41-year-old Raul Ibañez mashing, as the youth will have to carry the future. The Mariners do draw a decent amount of walks, but they swing and miss a lot too, which comes at the expense of the team batting average, which currently sits at .236.
PITCHING: 4.4 Runs Allowed/Game (8th in the AL)
The Cubs may miss Hernandez this weekend, but they’ll face a real challenge in Iwakuma, now in his second year on this side of the Pacific. Iwakuma works in the low-90s with his fastball, an offering that he can cut and pinpoint on both sides of the plate. He uses those pitches to set up a hard-tumbling splitter against lefties and a good two-plane slider for righties. Iwakuma has kept batters off-balance even more frequently in his second season through the AL. He sports a 2.26 ERA and limits opponents to just 6.5 hits and 1.4 walks per nine innings while striking out 8.0. The Cubs will next see a pair of veteran retreads, Aaron Harang and Jeremy Bonderman. Harang has added and subtracted his way to more strikeouts and fewer walks than in his solid 2011-12 campaigns, but he’s also been more hittable, including for home runs. That’s a more general symptom of a rotation that doesn’t have great stuff outside of the front two arms. Meanwhile, Bonderman has gotten good outcomes so far but also a lot of contact. It’s his first big league season since 2010, so he’s a huge wild card. It all leads up to a back end of the bullpen that gets a lot of strikeouts, particularly from Carter Capps and lefties Charlie Furbush and Oliver Perez. But Furbush, Perez and closer Tom Wilhelmsen struggle with their control, while Capps frequently gets roughed up with the long ball.