By Brent Stecker
The Mariners are in the playoff hunt, but an air of concern still surrounds the team.
That's because the Mariners are not the prototypical .500-or-better squad, as their own ballpark has been anything but friendly confines for them in 2014.
Dustin Ackley and the rest of the Mariners' offense has struggled at Safeco Field, scoring 43 fewer runs there than on the road. (AP)
Despite maintaining a record above .500 – a rare occurrence in June for a franchise that is now 13 seasons removed from its last postseason appearance – Seattle was nearly swept in back-to-back home series last week and is just 15-20 at Safeco Field. In away games the Mariners are 20-14, and they even won six of seven on their last road trip. So what's holding the Mariners back in Seattle?
As is usually the case with the Mariners' woes, the pitching isn't responsible – led by Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and a strong bullpen, they have the second-best ERA (3.37) in the American League. So once again the offense is under the microscope, and once again the numbers aren't pretty.
At home, Seattle is hitting just .222, reaching base at a low .278 clip, and has scored just 117 runs. On the road the Mariners produced a .253 average, a .313 on-base percentage and 160 runs.
Unfortunately for the Mariners, seeing the problem is easy, but finding a solution is anything but. It's not just one player under-performing at Safeco, it's the whole offense, and it's doubtful the recent call-up of Jesus Montero or an addition of a minor leaguer like Jabari Blash would suddenly turn Seattle into a run-scoring machine at home.
So what do the Mariners do?
Looking back at the stats, it's the on-base percentage that is the most glaring. Consider one thing the Mariners have done better at home – hitting home runs. At Safeco they've left the yard 28 times, five more than on the road, but they've still scored 43 fewer runs there. The on-base mark is the reason why – the Mariners don't get runners on base enough, and their big hits mean less as a result.
If there was any question as to what the Mariners need to target as the trade deadline nears, that should answer it. Just look at the Athletics, the team that has continued to dominate the AL West for years despite keeping a relatively low payroll. That's because they go after players that post high OBPs, and they preach that philosophy throughout their system.
Seattle isn't far off from producing enough runs to win more consistently, and finding a hitter that can post a .350-plus OBP in front of Robinson Cano's .327 batting average and Kyle Seager's .457 slugging percentage would go a long way – home or on the road.