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Justin Smoak has seven RBIs through three games, a total he didn't reach until May 21 last season. (AP)

By Gary Hill

The Mariners landed a wicked right hook square on the nose of the Angels in the opening series of the season. The blow has sent panicked fans scrambling to the life rafts of the Good Ship Angel. The hopes for a strong start for the Angels were crushed under an army of steamrollers wearing Mariners blue.

The rest of this post will be a celebration through numbers of the broom job the Mariners just performed on the Angels.

• The Mariners have scored the most runs in MLB with 26. That's seven more than the next closest teams and more than the Cardinals, Reds, Yankees, Cubs, Brewers, Royals, Orioles and Pirates have scored combined.

• The Mariners have scored 10 ninth-inning runs, which is more runs than 18 teams have scored in all.

• The Mariners are second in batting average (.309), first in on-base percentage (.389), first in slugging percentage (.591) and first in on-base plus slugging (.980)

• The Mariners have blasted six homers while five teams are waiting to hit their first.

• Felix Hernandez, Erasmo Ramirez and James Paxton combined to toss 20 innings while allowing 12 hits, four earned runs and three bases on balls and fanning 26. Their ERA is 1.80.

• Paxton has started his career 4-0 with a 1.16 ERA through five stats. He has struck out 30 hitters in 31 innings.

• Justin Smoak has crushed two homers, ripped two doubles, driven in seven runs and is batting .462. In the entire first month of last season, he hit one home run with four doubles, five RBIs and a .237 average. He collected his seventh RBI on May 21 of last season.

• Smoak is currently leading MLB in six different offensive categories.

• The Angels' pitching staff features a hefty 8.33 ERA.

• The Mariners have faced two lefty starts and have scored 10 runs in 10 2/3 innings. They only hit .227 with a .660 OPS against lefty starters last season.

• Robinson Cano is tied for the MLB lead in walks and sports a lofty .600 OBP.

• The 1927 Yankees scored 27 runs in their first three games.

• Hernandez owns the second-worst ERA on the club at 3.00.

• Mike Moore, Mark Langston and Mike Morgan were the winning pitchers the last time the Mariners performed a series sweep to start the year.

• The last time Seattle swept the Angels in Anaheim was 2006. Hernandez hurled a complete-game gem to beat Jered Weaver in the series finale.

The task becomes tougher starting tonight as the Mariners travel to Oakland to take on the two-time defending American League West champion A's.

By Gary Hill

The Mariners enthusiastically passed their first lefty test of the season Tuesday night by battering C.J. Wilson for six runs on eight hits.

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The six runs the M's scored off C.J. Wilson is encouraging given their struggles against lefties last season. (AP)
The Mariners struggled mightily in 2013 against left-handed pitching. Their meager .229 batting average was the worst in all of MLB and their .293 on-base percentage and .364 slugging percentage also finished dead last. Wilson himself was a significant contributor to the problem by only allowing seven earned runs in 28 2/3 innings pitched (2.20 ERA) against Seattle.

The Mariners faced 51 left-handed starters a season ago, which was a meaningful chunk of the season given the lack of production. Meanwhile, Seattle maintained a .714 OPS versus right-handed pitchers, which was a respectable 17th in baseball.

It is essential that the Mariners dramatically improve their lefty fate and here are a few primary reasons why they will.

Robinson Cano. The five-time All-Star hits everyone. He hits lefties, righties and even pitchers who throw in a similar fashion to a Jim Leyland reference. Cano crushes righties to the tune of .319/.363/.531, but is solid against left-handed pitchers as well (.290/.340/.790). In 2013, Cano hit .291 with seven home runs and 37 RBIs against lefties.

Corey Hart. The slugger has feasted on left-handed arms throughout his career. He maintains an even .300 batting average against lefties while belting 44 homers and boasting a career .896 OPS.

Brad Miller. In a small MLB sample size Miller handled himself well against lefties by hitting .270 and lacing five extra-base hits. The production vastly outweighs what they were previously getting offensively against lefties.

Justin Smoak. It was a massive struggle for Smoak from the right side. The switch-hitter batted a frigid .192 versus lefties while managing just two of his 20 home runs. Strangely enough, Smoak actually had more success against lefties than righties in 2012. He hit .235 and whacked seven homers and seven doubles. He is a natural right-handed hitter and at least some improvement against lefties seems very likely.

The Mariners are off to a flying start by nearly matching their output against Wilson from a year ago in just one game. They will be tested again Wednesday as lefty Hector Santiago takes to the hill.

By Gary Hill

On Monday evening, Felix Hernandez will stride to the mound for his seventh opening day start. The Mariners' ace has been the model of consistency, surpassing 30 starts and 200 innings for six straight years.

In 2013, Felix combined with fellow All-Star Hisashi Iwakuma to form a devastating one-two punch. The dynamic duo only yielded 134 earned runs in 424 innings for a sparkling 2.84 ERA. The remaining three spots in the rotation, however, did not fare nearly as well (5.24 ERA in 536 innings).

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Behind Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, the rest of the Mariners' 2013 rotation combined for a 5.24 ERA. (AP)
The Mariners' rotation slipped to 20th overall in starter ERA (4.18) despite the Herculean efforts of Hernandez and Iwakuma. It should be noted that no team below 14th in starter ERA made the playoffs in 2013. In fact, here is the list of the top 11 teams in starter ERA in 2013:

1. Los Angeles Dodgers, 3.13 (Playoffs)
2. St. Louis Cardinals, 3.42 (Playoffs)
3. Cincinnati Reds, 3.43 (Playoffs)
4. Detroit Tigers, 3.44 (Playoffs)
5. Pittsburgh Pirates, 3.50 (Playoffs)
6. Atlanta Braves, 3.51 (Playoffs)
7. Washington Nationals, 3.60
8. New York Mets, 3.68
9. Oakland A's, 3.72 (Playoffs)
10. Tampa Bay Rays, 3.81 (Playoffs)
11. Boston Red Sox, 3.84 (Playoffs)

The Mets and Nationals were the only teams in the top 11 in starter ERA that did not reach the postseason last year. The Cleveland Indians were the lone competitors to land in the playoffs outside of the top 11 (14th at 3.92 ERA).

The Boston Red Sox are an especially interesting case. In 2012, their rotation was torched for 754 earned runs in 1,443 innings (4.70 ERA), which was 27th in MLB. The Red Sox finished dead last in the American League East as they could only muster a 69-93 record. The following season the improved rotation slashed nearly an entire run from its combined ERA (3.84) as Boston rolled to 97 wins and the World Series title. By no means was starting pitching the only factor in the massive improvement from season to season, but it clearly played a fundamental role.

Here is the breakdown of how many playoff teams finished in the top 11 in several statistical categories.

Starting pitcher ERA: 9 of top 11 were playoff teams
• Bullpen ERA: 4 of top 11 were playoff teams
• Runs scored: 6 of top 11 were playoff teams
• Hits: 4 of top 11 were playoff teams
• Home runs: 6 of top 11 were playoff teams
• Batting average: 4 of top 11 were playoff teams
• On-base percentage: 8 of top 11 were playoff teams
• On-base plus slugging: 6 of top 11 were playoff teams

The obvious key for the Mariners to improve from 20th in team ERA is to dramatically improve the final three slots in the rotation. All Mariners starts outside of Felix and Iwakuma last season:

• Joe Saunders: 32 starts, 5.26 ERA
• Aaron Harang: 22 starts, 5.76 ERA
• Brandon Maurer: 14 starts, 6.20 ERA
• Erasmo Ramirez: 13 starts, 4.97 ERA
• Blake Beavan: 2 starts, 8.44 ERA
• Jeremy Bonderman: 7 starts, 4.93 ERA
• Hector Noesi: 1 start, 0.00 ERA
• James Paxton: 4 starts, 1.50 ERA
• Taijuan Walker: 3 starts, 3.60 ERA

The baton has been passed from the veteran back end of a year ago to a new generation of electric M's arms. James Paxton, Taijuan Walker, Erasmo Ramirez, Brandon Maurer and Roenis Elias will be tasked with solidifying the final three rotation spots as the Mariners shoot for the exclusive top 11.

By Gary Hill

A few fun facts about the Mariners' new manager, Lloyd McClendon:

• He was once traded for Tom Seaver. On Dec. 16, 1982, the Reds traded Seaver to the Mets for McClendon and Charlie Puleo.

• He played parts of eight seasons in MLB with the Reds, Cubs and Pirates.

• Until this season, McClendon was the last Pirate to reach base in a postseason game. In Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS against the Braves, he was issued a free pass by Jeff Reardon in the top of the ninth inning. He was left stranded at second base when Jay Bell grounded out. The Braves erased a 2-0 Pittsburgh lead in the bottom of the inning as Sid Bream lumbered home to send Atlanta to the World Series.

• He was a lifetime .625 hitter in the postseason (10 for 16) including a home run in Game 6 of the 1992 NLCS against Atlanta. His teammate Barry Bonds went deep as well in that game.

• He set an NLCS record by recording eight hits in eight straight at-bats.

• McClendon never faced the Mariners as a player.

• The right-handed hitter was a career .206 hitter with 14 home runs against righties while slugging 21 homers and hitting .262 against lefties.

• Dennis Rasmussen, Tom Glavine and Sid Fernandez were the three pitchers he took deep more than once in his career.

• He played for Pete Rose, Tommy Helms, Don Zimmer and Jim Leyland in his MLB career.

• McClendon appeared in left field (138 games), right field (131), first base (101), catcher (50) and third base (9) in the majors.

• He was a standout baseball player at Valparaiso University and entered the school's Hall of Fame in the class of 1997-98.

• His son Bo McClendon was drafted in the 39th round of the 2010 MLB draft out of Valparaiso and spent two years in professional baseball.

• He shares the hometown of Gary, Ind., with the Jackson 5. Dan Plesac, Ron Kittle and LaTroy Hawkins were other big leaguers from Gary.

• He led his hometown to the Little League World Series in 1971. He pitched a shutout, homered five times in five at-bats and was walked 10 times in the Series.

• He was chosen with the first pick in the eighth round of the 1980 draft by the Mets. He was selected 18 picks ahead of a 19-year-old high-school shortstop named Eric Davis (Cincinnati).

• He was teammates with current Athletics general manager Billy Beane with the Little Falls Mets in 1980 and the Lynchburg Mets in 1981.

• He was also teammates with current Mariners pitching coach Carl Willis in the Reds organization.

• McClendon managed the Pirates from 2001-2005 and compiled a 336-446 record.

• The most games he won in a season at the helm was 75 in 2003.

• Not coincidentally, here is a list of pitchers who started at least 10 games for the Pirates between 2001 and 2005:

Kip Wells, 121 starts
Josh Fogg, 119
Kris Benson, 63
Jimmy Anderson, 59
David Williams, 58
Oliver Perez, 55
Ryan Vogelsong, 33
Todd Ritchie, 33
Mark Redmond, 30
Jeff D'Amico, 29
Joe Beimel, 23
Salomon Torres, 21
Jeff Suppan, 21
Brian Meadows, 18
Bronson Arroyo, 17
Zach Duke, 14
Jason Schmidt, 14
Tony McKnight, 12
Omar Olivares, 12

• The Pirates' 2002 spring training featured a classic reaction from Derek Bell when he learned he was in a battle for the starting job in right field:

"If it ain't settled with me out there, then they can trade me," Bell said. "I ain't going out there to hurt myself in spring training battling for a job. If it is (open), then I'm going into Operation Shutdown."

It should be noted that Bell hit .173 with five home runs the previous year with the Pirates. Bell never played in the Majors again after the "Operation Shutdown" proclamation.

• McClendon famously stole first base after an argument with an umpire in 2001.

• McClendon spent eight seasons on the Tigers' coaching staff. He served as the Tigers' bullpen coach in 2006 and was the hitting coach from 2007-2013.

• The Tigers scored 5,511 runs while McClendon was their hitting coach, which trailed only Texas (5,681), the New York Yankees (5,852) and Boston (5,864).

• Miguel Cabrera slashed .327/.407/.588 with 227 home runs and 737 RBIs in 4,054 plate appearances from 2008-2013.

• McClendon becomes just the fifth African-American manager to guide more than one team. He joins Frank Robinson (four teams), Dusty Baker (three), Jerry Manuel (two) and Hal McRae (two).

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A lineup dominated by left-handed hitters has made the Mariners susceptible to left-handed pitching. (AP)

By Gary Hill

The season splits for the Mariners are dramatic. The M's have bashed 113 homers against right-handed pitching, which is the fifth most in Major League Baseball this season. Their slugging percentage against righties falls just outside the top 10 and their .724 OPS sits in the top half of baseball.

The story against left-handed pitching, however, is vastly different. They maintain the second-worst OPS (.653) in all of baseball against lefties. They are only hitting .228 against southpaws, which is third worst in the game.

There is not much of a mystery as to why the Mariners struggle against lefties when the splits of everyday players are taken into account.

Justin Smoak (switch hitter)

vs. right: .286/.387/.498, 14 HR, 31 RBI
vs. left: .167/.262/.202, 0 HR, 4 RBI

Nick Franklin (switch hitter)

vs. righties: .229/.299/.448, 11 HR, 31 RBI
vs. lefties: .206/.268/.304, 1 HR, 10 RBI

Brad Miller (bats left)

vs. righties: .263/.324/.442, 5 HR, 19 RBI
vs. lefties: .280/.341/.360, 0 HR, 7 RBI

Kyle Seager (bats left)

vs. righties: .296/.378/.481, 12 HR, 40 RBI
vs. lefties: .248/.298/.426, 9 HR, 22 RBI

Kendrys Morales (switch hitter)

vs. righties: .278/.330/.451, 13 HR, 49 RBI
vs. lefties: .280/.348/.418, 4 HR, 20 RBI

Michael Saunders (bats left)

vs. righties: .256/.347/.417, 7 HR, 25 RBI
vs. lefties: .189/.272/.315, 3 HR, 14 RBI

Dustin Ackley (bats left)

vs. righties: .251/.303/.341, 2 HR, 19 RBI
vs. lefties: .266/.310/.362, 1 HR, 8 RBI

Raul Ibanez (bats left)

vs. righties: .252/.312/.489, 17 HR, 42 RBI
vs. lefties: .243/.304/.504, 8 HR, 18 RBI

Mike Zunino (bats right)

vs. righties: .247/.314/.338, 1 HR, 8 RBI
vs. lefties: .227/.320/.364, 1 HR, 2 RBI

Franklin Gutierrez (bats right)

vs. righties: .283/.313/.630, 4 HR, 7 RBI
vs. lefties: .200/.200/.486, 3 HR, 7 RBI

The Mariners have only scored one run in their last 26 innings and it is no coincidence they have faced a lefty in 25 of them.

They are only averaging 2.4 runs per game in their last 11 and they faced a lefty starter in seven of them. The M's were the third-highest-scoring team in July at 5.24 runs per game. They faced 18 righty starters and only seven left-handed starters the entire month. The Mariners lost four of those seven starts against lefties.

The Mariners' lineup is dominated by left-handed hitters and their switch hitters have all been stronger from the left side. In the cases of Nick Franklin and Justin Smoak, the disparity between the two sides has been massive.

The right-hand hitters who were supposed to supply balance to the lineup have spent more time on the disabled list than on the field. Michael Morse features a career OPS of .847 versus southpaws, but he has only managed to play 76 games this year. Jesus Montero hit .322 with six homers against lefties last season, but he has only appeared in 29 games in 2013. Franklin Gutierrez has a career .824 OPS against left-handed pitchers, but he has only made the lineup 23 times this year.

The Mariners will most likely continue to struggle against left-handed pitchers the rest of this season given their current makeup, so the focus turns to what should be done moving forward.

The answer to the lefty riddle has many parts.

First of all, the Mariners are extremely young offensively and it is reasonable to assume there will be natural progression and improvement against lefties. Players like Kyle Seager project to improve against lefties over time.

Secondly, players already in the system such as Stefen Romero could provide impactful long-term help. The right-handed hitter out of Oregon State hit .280 with 11 home runs and 74 RBIs in 92 games with Tacoma this season.

Thirdly, specialists could be hired from the outside to form appropriate platoon situations. The Athletics have used various platoons to their advantage this season. The Rangers employee Jeff Baker as a lefty antidote and he is mashing them to the tune of a ridiculous 1.215 OPS.

There is also a massive move the Mariners could make to help their cause.

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Cuban defector Jose Abreu is a right-handed slugger who would fit well in the Mariners' lineup. (AP)
Jose Abreu recently defected from Cuba. He is currently in the process of establishing residency in another country and MLB free agency will be in his future when he does.

Abreu is a powerfully built right-handed hitter who is listed at 6 feet 2 and 258 pounds. He has played professionally in Cuba since 2003-04 yet he is still only 26 years old. He has routinely destroyed pitching in Cuba and has not hit below .382 the past three seasons. In 2010-11 he won the MVP by posting a .453/.597/.986 slash in nearly 300 plate appearances. He belted 33 homers that year, which tied him for the league lead with Yoenis Cespedes despite 122 fewer plate appearances.

Cespedes and fellow countryman Yasiel Puig of the Dodgers injected immediate offensive punch into their respective lineups. Puig's slash line this season is an eye-popping .351/.411/.564. Cespedes has bashed more than 20 homers in each of his first two seasons and finished in the top 10 in MVP voting last year.

Abreu has punished pitching on the international scene with wild success at tournaments all over the world. At the most recent World Baseball Classic he tied for the lead in homers and finished just one RBI behind David Wright. He tied the Netherlands' Andrelton Simmons for second in total bases, finishing just behind Robinson Cano.

Various scouting reports praise Abreu's massive power potential while questions regarding his defensive ability swirl. If the Mariners elect not to re-sign Kendrys Morales then they would have availability at designated hitter, and any defensive shortcomings would be irrelevant.

Abreu is going to cost a great deal to sign. Cespedes signed a four-year, $36 million deal that was questioned at the time, but now looks to be a bargain. Puig inked a seven-year, $42 million contract that is looking more prudent by the day. Abreu will cost more than both players, especially given the dearth of power potential on the market this winter. The competition will be fierce as the Rangers, Orioles, Red Sox, Mets and others could all be in on him.

Nevertheless, signing Abreu would be a roll of the dice given the dollars involved and the competition he has faced thus far. However, a middle-of-the-order power bat thriving in his prime may be enticing enough for the Mariners to aggressively pursue.

By Gary Hill

What do the Los Angeles Dodgers, Cincinnati Reds, Detroit Tigers, St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Atlanta Braves have in common?

1. All six of those teams are currently holding down a postseason spot as either a division or wildcard leader.

2. They are the top six teams in starting pitchers' ERA.

Good starting pitching is critical to postseason chances. Here is a peek at the teams holding down playoff spots and where they rank in starting pitchers' ERA:

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Erasmo Ramirez and the rest of Seattle's rotation aside from Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma have a combined 30-45 record and a 5.49 ERA this season. (AP)
Los Angeles Dodgers, 3.14 (first)
Cincinnati Reds, 3.30 (second)
Detroit Tigers, 3.41 (third)
St. Louis Cardinals, 3.42 (fourth)
Pittsburgh Pirates, 3.44 (fifth)
Atlanta Braves, 3.59 (sixth)
Boston Red Sox, 3.82 (10th)
Oakland A's, 3.90 (13th)
Tampa Bay Rays, 3.92 (14th)
Texas Rangers, 3.92 (15th)

There is not one team in postseason position that is in the bottom half of MLB in rotation ERA. Not one team sitting among the bottom 10 teams in starting pitchers' ERA even has a winning record.

The Mariners are included in this bottom-tiered group.

Their rotation is 20th in the big leagues with a 4.24 ERA. The M's have a better record than fellow American League teams Toronto, Minnesota, Chicago, Los Angeles and Houston and their rotation features a better ERA than all but one of them. The Baltimore Orioles are the only AL team with a better record than the M's but a worse rotation ERA.

The Mariners find themselves in a curious situation. A strong rotation is crucial to success. Their rotation features a Cy Young Award candidate and an All-Star. But despite the star power, their rotation is stuck in the bottom third in ERA.

The Mariners are 29-25 when either Felix Hernandez or Hisashi Iwakuma starts. They are 30-45 when all other starters take the ball. There has been just one more win in 20 more starts for the other three spots.

Felix and Iwakuma have thrown 363 2/3 innings this season and have a wonderful 2.80 ERA. The rest of the starters have chucked 414 2/3 innings and have boasted a 5.49 ERA. Their ERA is nearly a run and a half over the average for an MLB starting pitcher (4.03).

Felix and Iwakuma have fanned 342 hitters and only walked 72 in 54 starts. The rest of the rotation has struck out 264 and walked 126 in 75 turns.

The rotation has been the biggest reason why the M's have struggled to find consistency this season and they will need to find a fix going into 2014.

However, the Pittsburgh Pirates are a great example of how quickly it can turn. They have the fifth-best starters' ERA in the game at 3.44 this season. They were 18th last year with an almost identical ERA to the M's this season at 4.21. The major difference for Pittsburgh this season was the signing of Francisco Liriano and the emergence of youngsters Jeff Locke and Gerrit Cole.

Heading into next season, Felix is at the top and Iwakuma is second. Here is an early look at options to fill the final three spots in the rotation:

Erasmo Ramirez: 4-1, 5.44 ERA.

Ramirez was expected to be a part of the Mariners' rotation to open the season, but injury has wrecked most of his year. He has struggled to find his form but has shown flashes of promise. He has yielded three earned runs in his last 13 2/3 innings and could be a solid answer in the back end.

Taijuan Walker: 9-10, 2.93 ERA with Jackson and Tacoma.

There is little doubt the young phenom will be given every opportunity to win a job in the spring and he has the ability to make a major impact in the rotation for years to come.

Danny Hultzen: 4-1, 2.20 ERA with Tacoma.

Hultzen was pushing his way into the Mariners' rotation before shoulder issues derailed his season. If the modifications he has made to his delivery hold then he has a chance to be everything the M's hoped he would be when they selected him No. 2 overall in the 2011 draft.

James Paxton: 7-11, 4.64 ERA with Tacoma.

The lefty has had his struggles this season in Triple-A . He turned in an extremely impressive July, but has stumbled in August. He has the talent to be a factor.

Brandon Maurer: 4-7, 6.58 ERA.

Maurer broke camp in the rotation but struggled mightily to start the campaign. He is still only 22 years old and could be an answer if he can fully harness his natural ability.

Jason Vargas: 7-5, 3.77 ERA with the Los Angeles Angels.

The former Mariner will be a free agent at the end of the season. He pitched well for the M's while he was here and his shortened season this year may depress his value. He is a great fit for Safeco Field.

Jorge De La Rosa: 14-6, 3.28 for the Colorado Rockies.

He has had a tremendous bounce-back season after losing parts of the last two years recovering from Tommy John surgery. The lefty is not striking guys out at the same rate as previously in his career and part of the reason is that his velocity is down about 2 mph. The 32-year-old fanned 193 hitters in 185 innings in 2009. Trading Coors Field for Safeco Field may be a great move for him.

Tim Lincecum: 7-13, 4.55 ERA for the San Francisco Giants.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner was expecting a major pay day when free agency hit after the end of 2013, but his performance the last two years has changed that. The local product has suffered through two tough years and has left some speculating that a career move to the bullpen may be in order. The M's may was to bring him home to try and revive "The Freak".

Paul Maholm: 9-10, 4.51 ERA with the Atlanta Braves.

The lefty pitches to contact and would fit Safeco Field. He would not turn around a rotation, but could be part of the solution at the back end.

Phil Hughes: 4-12, 4.88 ERA.

He has a 5.79 home ERA this season and a 3.67 ERA on the road. He has yielded 17 homers at home compared to just six on the road. Yankee Stadium can be brutal for a righty and Hughes has suffered badly at home. A change of scenery may just be what the free agent and former first-round pick needs.

Blake Beavan: 0-2, 6.13 ERA.

He has been given opportunities to win a spot in the rotation and has not been able to seize them. There may not be many more chances to come.

Hector Noesi: 0-1, 5.64 ERA.

He has shown ability but not consistency. He has only started one game this season for a struggling rotation.

Trades can always change the dynamics of the situation, but this was the early look nonetheless. There are some intriguing possibilities as the M's get ready to launch their work to solve the rotation puzzle.

By Gary Hill

When Danny Farquhar strolls to the hill, those epic words from Charles Dickens seem echo in the mind: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

This is not "A Tale of Two Cities" but rather a tale of two relief pitchers.

The first pitcher in question scuffled through his first 17 MLB games this season. He yielded 32 hits and walked 12 while featuring a hefty 8.77 ERA. He has been shuffled from Toronto to Oakland then Toronto and back to Oakland during his career. He has experienced the true definition of a "New York minute" during his brief stay in the Yankees organization before being shipped to Seattle. He pitched for minor-league teams in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Pa.; New Hampshire; Sacramento, Calif.; Trenton, N.J. and Tacoma in just the last two seasons.

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After a rough start to the season, Mariners reliever Danny Farquhar has been lights out in his last 15 appearances. (AP)
The second pitcher is now the lock-down closer for the Mariners. If Farquhar's first 17 games were the worst of times then his most recent 15 appearances have been the best of times. His ERA has been a microscopic 0.96. He has fanned a whopping 30 hitters while walking just five and he has only yielded eight hits during that time.

From July 21 to Aug. 21 he was scored on in only one of his 15 outings. He has been perfect in his last four trips to the mound (four innings, zero hits, zero runs, zero walks and seven strikeouts). Wednesday in Oakland was the exclamation point. He threw 18 pitches and 12 of them were strikes as he fanned all three hitters he faced to lock down his ninth save.

His recent success has been a culmination of settling on his comfortable arm slot and harnessing his wicked stuff. Despite the fact he is listed at 5 feet 9 and 180 pounds, he can hum a fastball to the plate at a surprising pace. He is pumping his fastball at an average of 94.7 mph, which is 42nd best in the game. Jeff Sullivan just penned a piece at FanGraphs.com that listed Farquhar's curveball as the most unhittable pitch in the game so far this season.

The truth is that the results may just be catching up to what has been bubbling underneath the surface for Farquhar. He has been striking out hitters at an impressive rate throughout the season.

Strikeout rate leaders:

1. Aroldis Chapman, 14.96
2. Greg Holland, 14.14
3. Andrew Miller, 14.09
4. Jason Grilli, 14.03
5. Danny Farquhar, 13.82
6. Craig Kimbrel, 13.68

As the layers are peeled back even further you find Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP). FIP is a way to measure a pitcher assuming that performances on balls in play are league average. It is essentially a way of trying to measure a pitcher of terms of what the pitcher can specifically control such as strikeouts, walks and homers, and striping away what a pitcher cannot be responsible for.

Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP) takes this concept ever further by replacing a pitcher's home-run total with an estimate of what he should have allowed given a league average home-run-to-fly-ball rate. The number ends up looking like an ERA and in these terms anything around 3.00 is great, 4.00 is average, and the 5.00 range is not good.

For example, here is the top 10 for starters in terms of xFIP (minimum of 20 starts).

1. Matt Harvey, 2.31
2. Yu Darvish, 2.66
3. Adam Wainwright, 2.68
4. Felix Hernandez, 2.71
5. Chris Sale, 2.90
6. A.J. Burnett, 2.91
7. Clayton Kershaw, 2.92
8. Anibal Sanchez, 2.95
9. Cliff Lee, 3.04
10. Max Scherzer, 3.07

The list is very impressive and populated by some of the best pitchers in the game. Here is the top 10 for relievers:

1. Greg Holland, 1.50
2. Danny Farquhar, 2.04
3. Kenley Jansen, 2.04
4. Craig Kimbrel, 2.05
5. Jason Grilli, 2.07
6. Mark Melancon, 2.19
7. Koji Uehara, 2.20
8. Aroldis Chapman, 2.33
9. Andrew Miller, 2.44
10. Trevor Rosenthal, 2.48

Even when Farquhar's surface numbers in his first handful of appearances were ugly, he maintained a solid FIP. This could be a case of numbers finally catching up to the good stuff that that had been going on underneath. The numbers indicate that Farquhar's new role may be more than temporary.

Fun facts regarding Mariners saves

• With his next save, Farquhar will become the 25th Mariners pitcher to record double-digit saves in a season. Kazuhiro Sasaki, Norm Charlton and Mike Schooler all recorded more than 10 saves in a season four times each.

• Mariners saves leader on their current active roster:

Danny Farquhar, 9
Oliver Perez, 2
Lucas Luetge, 2
Hisashi Iwakuma, 2
Yoervis Medina, 1

• Farquhar is currently tied with Arthur Rhodes for 30th on the Mariners' all-time saves list.

• Randy Johnson saved two games in a Mariners uniform.

• Hall of Famer Rich "Goose" Gossage saved 310 games in his big-league career. His last save came in his last MLB game. In classic Gossage fashion, he went three hitless innings against the Rangers to preserve the win for the Mariners. He saved exactly one game for the M's.

• The only Mariner with more saves than Farquhar in fewer games pitcher is Ted Power. He saved 13 games in 1993 while only pitching a total of 25 games in his brief M's career.

By Gary Hill

The unbalanced schedule in Major League Baseball produces the exact result you would expect from something called "unbalanced". Each MLB franchise plays teams within its division 19 times this season for a grand total of 76 games. Teams also play six or seven games against the 10 other teams within the league for a total of 66. Twenty interleague games finish off the schedule.

The issue is that the unbalanced schedule can lead to a massive disparity in competitive balance. For example, the Blue Jays are stuck playing a huge portion of their schedule against the Red Sox, Rays, Orioles and Yankees. On the other hand, the Braves have the good fortune to clash with the Marlins, Phillies, Mets and Nationals on a routine basis.

Most games against teams above .500:

1. Toronto, 91
2. New York Yankees, 77
3. Los Angeles Angels, 75
4. Houston, 75
5. Tampa Bay, 73
6. Minnesota, 72
7. Boston, 71
8. Seattle, 70
8. Kansas City, 70
8. Cleveland, 70

Fewest games against teams above .500:

1. Atlanta, 37
2. Los Angeles Dodgers, 46
3. Miami, 51
3. New York Mets, 51
5. Cincinnati, 51
6. St. Louis, 52
6. Pittsburgh, 52
6. Arizona, 52
9. Washington, 53
10. San Diego, 54

There is a difference of 54 games between Toronto and Atlanta in terms of games played against teams above .500.

The point probably does not need to be made that beating teams with better records is more difficult than beating those with worse records. As evidence, there are only three teams in MLB with a better winning percentage against teams above .500 than those below.

• Arizona: .538 above, .507 below
• San Diego: .500 above, .408 below
• Chicago White Sox: .403 above, .393 below

It should be noted that the Padres and White Sox have the lowest winning percentage against below-.500 teams in all of baseball.

The Blue Jays will face teams above .500 roughly 119 times this season. Since 2000, 46 teams have played at least 100 games against teams above .500 and only three of them have posted a winning record against them. Strangely, they all came from the same division in the same season.

• 2003 Phillies, 54-49
• 2003 Marlins, 53-48
• 2003 Braves, 57-43

The Marlins won the World Series that season.

This season the Blue Jays are 38-53 (.418) against teams above .500 and 19-14 (.576) against teams below .500.

A couple of interesting notes regarding records:

• Tampa Bay is just 34-39 against teams above .500, but they have the best record in the game against teams below .500 (37-13).

• Cleveland has the second-best record against teams below .500 (38-17), but the Indians are 29-41 against teams above .500.

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