M's accomplish much with very little

So far this season, the 10-6, division-leading Seattle Mariners have done so much with so little that one wonders if eventually they will accomplish everything with nothing.

The final game of the year’s first homestand, Thursday, April 24, was a minimalist masterpiece. The M’s scored their only run of the shutout win on their side’s second pitch, a home run by Ichiro Suzuki. They had just four hits, same as the defending American League champion Tampa Bay Rays, and also committed three errors. The difference? The Rays, losing the three-game set two to one, had less luck than the M’s and, to contradict the saying that prevailed hours earlier on Earth Day, less wasn’t more.

Seattle won with a back-up catcher at first base. Most of the M’s marquee starters have been so unproductive at the plate that they may as well be swinging kayak paddles. The locals are third-to-last in the American League in batting with the second-lowest team average. Errors come in clumps and base-running is a moot point since the Mariners seldom get on base.

Pitching has been the salvation so far, but even that has been problematic. The M’s start Carlos Silva every five games knowing they will need at least seven runs to overcome Silva’s 6.35 earned-run average. Another starter, Chris Jakubauskas, was playing on D-league fields as recently as last season and looked as though that was where he belonged when he gave up six earned runs in three-plus innings against Detroit, April 22.

But a competitive club may only need three competent starters to make it into the postseason, and that is where the M’s seem blessed. Felix Hernandez, who earned the win on April 23 (four hits, no runs and seven strikeouts through seven innings), is the best 23-year-old pitcher in baseball. His 3-0 record surprises no one, particularly those who think King Felix will be crowned with the Cy Young Award this year.

The team’s blessings extend to a pair of lefties whom many found dubious as recently as three weeks ago. Would Jarrod Washburn ever accomplish what was expected when he was acquired three years ago? Would Erik Bedard rebound from last season’s slide, when the injured ace flamed out early?

Uh, yeah, they would. Entering the M’s six-game stretch in Los Angeles and Chicago, the southpaws are a combined 4-1 through 40 innings, with a combined earned-run average of one-something. Washburn, 23-43 his first three seasons, is 3-0 and a leading candidate for American League pitcher-of-the-month laurels.

Having a trio of exemplary starters can’t be underemphasized. The M’s potential on offense is so minimal that they barely seem capable of prevailing unless their starting pitchers keep the run counts down.

M’s manager Don Wakamatsu seemed to sum up his team’s condition with two brief quotes after the homestand:

“Felix was outstanding and kept getting better,” he said, and just as easily could have been speaking about all three of his top-line starters.

“We came out swinging,” he remarked about the offense, slyly adding: “At least, Ichiro did.”

The skipper may not have seen the stats at that point. As it happens, Ichiro’s four hits had accounted for half of what the entire team had tallied during the most recent two games.

And yet, here are the ’09 M’s: prevailing by 3.5 games in the AL West. Hey, a baseball team can’t do much more than that with any less.

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