Can Seattle Mariners Win Without Hitting Home Runs?

| by Baseball In-Depth

The Seattle Mariners, who were a trendy pick to win the AL West, are living up to expectations with a 9-7 record (.5 games out), and they haven't even had Cliff Lee pitch yet.  They've had predictably great pitching from "King" Felix Hernandez, who is probably the AL Cy Young favorite at this early stage of the season. 

They have also had great work from closer David Aardsma, who has 6 saves without allowing a run, and Sean White, who also has a 0.00 ERA after 6 relief appearances.

With the Angels having a down year so far and the fact the Oakland was a last place team just a year ago, the Mariners are seemingly in a good position.  The main issue is their offense, which ranks 25th in runs scored and 29th in home runs (they've hit 6 in 16 games).  Of the 25 players in the AL with at least 61 AB, only 7 don't have a home run yet.  Of those 7, 3 are on the Mariners: Jose Lopez, Franklin Gutierrez and Ichiro. 

While they're not exactly the Rodriguez/Griffey/Buhner trio from the mid-90's Mariners, those three did combine for 54 home runs last year.  Their top home run hitter from last year, Russell Branyan, is in Cleveland and I'm not sure how many they can expect to get out of a 40 year old Ken Griffey Jr (who has 0 HR through 38 AB) or Milton Bradley (who has 2 HR, but he's a tough player to project for the entire season). 

Who else is in their lineup? Uh, Jack Wilson, Chone Figgins, Rob Johnson, Matt Tuiasosopo and Mike Sweeney.  Unless Mike Sweeney begins hitting like it's 2001, they'll be lucky to get any power out of that group.

Even if Felix Hernandez, Cliff Lee and David Aardma finish 1-2-3 in the Cy Young balloting, it'll be a huge struggle to compete for the playoffs if they can't hit 100 home runs as a team.  One year ago today, the Angels were 6-9 and 3.5 games behind Seattle, but they still finished with 97 wins despite mediocre pitching.  Maybe Lopez and Gutierrez (he is hitting .393) are just having an early season power slump, and they'll combine again for 40+ home runs, but . 

As of right now, there is no one in their lineup I am confident will hit 20 HR this season.  While it's possible to score runs without hitting a lot of home runs, it's going to be difficult to compete with the Angels if they finish dead last in home runs.  Since they're winning right now, it might not seem like the biggest deal in the world.  At some point, it's going to catch up with them, and they make have to make some tough decisions about what to do next.