Fact or Fiction with InsidethePark's Aaron Beach

Assumptions made after one week of baseball tend to end up way out in left field by the end of a major league season. That's why I waited an extra week before inking some observations about our beloved '05 Mariners. Everyone knows that after two weeks you can forecast the remainder of the season, right? So, with a golf ball sized grain of salt, it's time to break down the early returns that have started to roll in.

Fiction:
Ryan Franklin has suddenly evolved into a top of the rotation starter. Sorry folks, this one isn't going to last. Franklin is certainly capable of rebounding strongly, but strongly in Ryan Franklin terms is a number 4 or 5 starter who hovers around a 4.00 ERA. The 32-year-old righty IS keeping the ball down much better and appears to be relying on a vastly improved defense to earn his outs. The wheels fell off Aaron Sele on Monday and it is just a matter of time for Franklin. If and when the Mariner bats kick in, Franklin may tally some impressive win totals (for him) but we aren't watching a star being born.

Fact:
Bobby Madritsch is permanently out of the starting rotation, barring a major collapse by Franklin or Sele or a couple of major injuries. Though his debut last season was impressive, Bobby went down after tearing a capsule ligament in his shoulder, sidelining him until June at the earliest. With King Felix lighting up Tacoma and Jorge Campillo looking like a perfect fit for Safeco, Mads' days as a Mariner starter have probably come and gone… at least for the majority of this year.

Fiction:
Miguel Olivo has established himself as the next Mariner catcher. Defensively he has made vast improvements over last season and his arm looks more and more spectacular every day, but with an average hovering well below .200 and drawing zero walks, Olivo is hardly a lock for the future. Fortunately for Olivo, he has made great strides working with the pitching staff and alleviating many defensive fears. With no ready successor, and an aging Dan Wilson, he is going to have plenty of time to iron out the kinks and prove he is worthy of the position.

Fiction:
Adrian Beltre is a one-season wonder and is destined for mediocrity. It may take a month or two for Beltre to make the adjustment to the AL, but his glove work has been splendid and a major reason for the Mariners' early pitching success. He's hitting well over .300 with men on so he's doing the job when it counts and, as he figures out AL pitching and feels more comfortable at the plate, the home runs and walks will come.

Fact:
This is the Richie Sexson that general manager Bill Bavasi signed. Yep, pretty much true. Tape measure home runs, strikeouts to start a windstorm and a rock solid glove at first base all add up to "Big Sexy" in midseason form. I love the fact that three-quarters of his hits are for extra bases and his average with RISP is over .500. His OBP is a little on the low side for him but unless Bret Boone remembers how to hit the ball, we may have to settle for some pretty nasty at bats. Nice segue to my next topic…

Fact:
Bret Boone is cooked, finished, done… This is the same Bret Boone we had last season, and despite a much better arsenal of hitters around him he still looks lost at the plate. Most noticeably, his power has simply disappeared. Even though he is hitting well with runners on base, the hits are little dribblers over the middle infielders. I wonder if Big George has a Yankee uniform already waiting for him, because I have no doubt that Boonie will end up in the Big Apple in 2006, just like every other washed up ex-star.

Fact:
Ichiro is the MAN.

Fiction:
Gil Meche has had it. Well I'm still not giving up on the guy. Sure he's seems like kind of a sissy, but that shouldn't prevent him from being a quality, reliable starter. On a team that also features Joel Piniero and is to be joined soon by King of the Mountain, Felix Hernandez, the Mariners don't need Meche to be an ace. They need him to be a reliable third starter, which he is more than capable of. Though he may never be the top of the rotation starter we all know he could and should be, Meche should be one of the finest third starters in the league.

Fiction:
Jeremy Reed is over-hyped and overrated. Don't let the .230 batting average fool you, because he is the real deal. Though I don't really understand why he is batting second with Randy Winn on the team, Reed has steadily improved after a poor first week. Players batting second are asked to do more than any other hitter in the lineup, and that added pressure contributed to his slow start. The rookie is walking more than twice as often as he is striking out, and is starting to hit the ball sharper with every at bat. Not only that, but his instincts with the glove have been awesome, far better than most anticipated. Jeremy Reed is a legit ROY candidate.

Fact:
The bullpen really is that much better. Indeed it is folks, indeed it is. Even though Eddie Guardado has been a little like watching Courtney Love on the red carpet, (frightening, but I can't wait to see what he does next) J.J. Putz has emerged as one of the better set-up guys in the league. In fact, Putz, along with Julio Mateo and Ron Villone, have yet to be scored upon in 2005. Meanwhile, Shiggy and Nelly have both looked solid in limited work early on. Even the talented but chaotic Matt Thornton seems to have settled down after a tough first week. The bullpen should only get stronger as Rafael Soriano continues his remarkable rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery. What was thought to be a major concern heading in to the start of the season, now looks like it might be a major bright spot.

Beach's Final Thought: (Sorry Jerry Springer)
As many experts predicted, the Mariners are looking like a .500 team. The offense is still waiting to come around, but the back-end starters are pitching beyond themselves, so it might be a wash. Does this mean that the Mariners have a shot at the division in 2005? The early returns seem to indicate serious parity in the AL West, but I don't expect the Angels starting rotation to continue to stink all season, and they will probably peal away from the rest of the pack over the next month. But if the M's pitching continues to shine, the team from Seattle just might be able to turn the 2005 AL West into a two-team race.

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