July 11, 2013 | Vol. 117 -- No. 12

Raul Ibanez and the Seattle Mariners' search for success

Crunch Time

Let’s talk baseball.

First up is Mariner’s outfielder/designated hitter Raul Ibanez. It’s not what’s eating Raul, rather it’s what is Raul eating?

The guy’s 41-years-old and is on fire at the plate. Torrid. Sizzling. Are there any other heat-related words or metaphors I can use?

Seattle signed Ibanez to a one-year deal in December 2012, which at that time had some scratching their heads. I wonder where those people are today?

Ibanez’s solo home run in the fifth put Seattle up 3-2 over visiting Boston en route to an 11-4 win Monday night. It was his 22nd of the season, fifth in the American League, and a club leading 51st RBI.

Ibanez is in his third stint with the Mariners, having first played from 1996-2000 and again from 2004-2008. To put his hitting in perspective, in the four years since he last played with the team he averaged 22 home runs a season, and he’s got 22 now less than a week before the All-Star break.

He’s the first player 40 or older to have 20 home runs before the All-Star break, is seven round-trip dingers behind Ted Williams for the all-time lead among players over 40, has eight homers over his 13-game hitting streak and three that came on 0-2 pitches.

So whatever Raul is eating, or more likely his approach to hitting, catching on with the rest of the M’s? Maybe yes, maybe no.

Seattle is 27th out of 30 MLB teams overall in hitting percentage at .240, with only Houston lower than us in the American League. But that’s up, slightly, from a couple weeks ago.

We’re 23rd in on-base percentage (.306), ahead of the Astros, Chicago White Sox and Yankees in the AL, 18th overall in slugging percentage (.392) and 21st in on-base plus slugging percentage (.700). Seattle is sixth in home runs, fourth in the AL, but 24th in RBIs, which means we need more guys getting on ahead of our dingers.

All of those numbers are better than what Seattle finished with in 2012, and players such Ibanez, Kyle Seager, Kendrys Morales, Endy Chavez, lately Justin Smoak (yes, him), the recently added Nick Franklin and the hard-luck, three-games-then-back-on-the-disabled-list Franklin Gutierrez have helped by hitting 20 points or more above team average.

But baseball is a game of streaks. Just ask the Pittsburgh Pirates, who climbed to the top of the National League Central with a nine-game run, only to drop back behind St. Louis with three straight losses. Or Toronto, who’s offseason spending spree paid dividends with a streak that got them back into playoff possibility mentions in the very tough AL East.

Seattle has won 5 of its last 7, as of Tuesday morning, but faces a big uphill climb to get into any mention of a wildcard spot, given the strength of the AL West with Oakland, Texas and maybe Los Angeles-Anaheim along with the AL East. And the M’s have had flashes of brilliance before that faded away.

But if the trend continues, a goal of .500 or better and maybe being mentioned in late-season playoff scenarios might be attainable.

I know that sounds weird, but that’s baseball.

Finally, on a local note, congratulations to the West Plains Little League Majors All-Star team for knocking of Spokane South in two straight games to win the District 13 title and advance to state tournament play. According to a Facebook post from coach Tad Richardson, the team played five games in six days last week, “3 in a row in temps over 90 degrees” and two going to extra innings, including Saturday’s game with Spokane South at Liberty.

West Plains will face the host team from Vancouver, Wash. (District 6) in state tournament play Saturday afternoon, July 13. Good luck West Plains Little Leaguers.

John McCallum can be reached at jmac@cheneyfreepress.com.

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