Michael Saunders: A Key Piece Still Missing
August was a month to remember in Seattle: a 17-10 mark gave the M’s and their fans hope that the playoffs might actually reach the Pacific Northwest this year.
Now with just over 20 games remaining in the season, though, bad news continues to come into the Mariners’ camp in the form of Michael Saunders’ lingering injuries. Though the team has heretofore survived the subtraction of a key left-handed bat, it remains to be seen whether such a loss will eventually derail an otherwise fine 2014.
Saunders (.276/.327/.434) has not played since July 10, when he hurt an oblique muscle. Continued setbacks, including a disease that he contracted from his newborn daughter, have kept the 27-year old off the field.
Since the beginning of September, Saunders has moved his rehab to Peroia, Arizona, where the Mariners’ Fall League squad is beginning play.
Jack Zduriencik did address the right-handed outfield hitting void at the Trade Deadline by acquiring Austin Jackson and Chris Denorfia, but since Saunders went down a deficit of left-handed bodies has loomed over the organization.
Of course, Dustin Ackley has been on an absolute tear, thereby securing the second spot in the lineup everyday, but beyond him and Jackson, for whom center field is always reserved, the options are worryingly thin.
Sep 2, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Seattle Mariners right fielder Endy Chavez (9) celebrates towards the bench after hitting a two RBI double against the Oakland Athletics during the fourth inning at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Denorfia and Stefen Romero are not high average players, with that stat being driven down by their “versus RHP” splits, and James Jones has gone from an electrifying .300 hitter to a sub-.290 OBP one-tool asset.
That has forced 36-year old Endy Chavez to hold down the fort in right field when Lloyd McClendon has strayed from putting one of the aforementioned right-handers there. While Chavez (.280/.322/.384) has put enjoyed a mini-Renaissance since joining the Mariners prior to the 2013 campaign, his age and career history lends itself to the belief that an injury or a slowdown in production is possible if not imminent.
With key series against Oakland and Los Angeles coming in the next two weeks, the M’s are likely to face big name right-handers such as Jered Weaver and Sonny Gray as well as Matt Shoemaker, who after Garrett Richards’ departure has stepped into the number two slot in the Angels’ rotation.
Having three competent left-handed options could be paramount, both in the contests against those starters and as bench options in the late innings, when Jones may be better served as a pinch-runner than pinch-hitter. A healthy Saunders is now the only option for that role with the final month now upon us.
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So, while we all get lost in what should be an exhilarating final three weeks of the regular season, one of the key pieces to the M’s continued success remains apart from the rest of the team. Whether or not he can get back to full fitness in short order may determine the fate of this playoff-deprived organization.