Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Seattle, Washington. Home to Starbucks, Nirvana, Amazon.com and for the first time ever, runs.
Offense isn't a word we usually associate with the Seattle Mariners ... until now.
Thanks to Michael Saunders' heroics on Sunday, the Mariners have now homered in 22 straight games, a team record and just five shy of the all-time mark set by Texas in 2002.
For a team that finished in the bottom half of the league in just about every offensive category last season, that's pretty impressive. Even more baffling is the fact that 15 of the games during the streak have been played at Seattle's home stadium, Safeco Field.
Safeco Field? You mean the stadium that produced three no-hitters last season?
The very same.
Whoever originally built Safeco must have been a pitcher earlier in life because for most of the stadium's history, the place has been pure evil for opposing hitters. Prior to 2013, the stadium had never finished higher than 18th in park factor. Take a look.
Keep in mind, there are 30 teams in Major League Baseball.
2000: .986 (20th)
2001: .769 (29th)
2002: .854 (26th)
2003: .946 (18th)
2004: .834 (29th)
2005: .973 (18th)
2006: .881 (27th)
2007: .948 (19th)
2008: .932 (24th)
2009: .947 (21st)
2010: .813 (29th)
2011: .855 (26th)
2012: .687 (30th)
You get the idea. So why is it so tough to hit at Safeco? Or more accurately, why WAS it so tough to hit at Safeco?
Probably because it was huge. Like Vince Wilfork weighing himself after Thanksgiving Dinner huge.
Fortunately for a generation of tortured hitters, many who are still reeling from their unpleasant encounters with Safeco in years past, that is no longer the case.
This winter, the Mariners cried uncle and by the grace of God, the stadium architects finally showed a bit of mercy. They moved the left field power alley in 12 feet (390 to 378) while trimming the distance from home plate to straightaway center by four feet (405 to 401).
The goal? To finally put some runs on the darn scoreboard.
Mission accomplished. Seattle ranks 13th in park factor this season.
This past homestand, the M's produced 56 runs, an average of eight per contest. Over the seven games, Seattle launched 31 extra-base hits including 11 home runs.
It could be that the Mariners are just hot. Only the Dodgers have hit for a higher average this month (.290 for L.A, .289 for Seattle). But I think most of it has to do with Safeco's new dimensions.
The Mariners are hitting .255 at their home ballpark this year. That's hardly something to brag about (the league average is .257) but it's a substantial improvement from last year's .220, which was dead-last in the major leagues.
Seattle's turnaround in the home run department has been even more staggering. In 81 games at home last season, the M's launched 56 balls into the bleachers. So far in 2013, the Mariners have crushed 54 jacks in just 50 contests. They're on pace for 87 touch-em-alls, which would be the most home runs they've blasted at Safeco in 13 years (92 in 2000).
Safeco's gentler layout could be the reason Raul Ibanez is having the best season of his career at age 41. Sixteen of Ibanez's team-leading 24 round- trippers have come at Seattle's new hitter's paradise.
Ibanez isn't the only one who has benefited from Safeco's renovations. Kyle Seager, Kendrys Morales, Jason Bay and Michael Morse have each hit at least 11 homers this season. The last time Seattle had this many sluggers in double- digits at the All-Star break was in 1999 when they were led by a couple of guys named Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez. Edgar Martinez, Russ Davis, David Bell and Butch Huskey were also a part of that team.
Despite their recent flair for the long ball, the Mariners are still just 25-25 at home this season. And to me, that makes sense.
Seattle's commitment to putting out a more hitter-friendly product has been a double-edged sword. The hitters are flourishing but the team's pitching staff is barely keeping its head above water.
The Mariners' ERA at home was the third-best in all of baseball last season (2.96). This year, they're 17th (3.80). They've also dropped seven places in opponents' batting average (third last season, tenth in 2013). Without Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma (8-3, 2.67 ERA combined in 138 1/3 innings at home), they'd be even worse (17-22, 4.27 in 332 2/3 innings).
Who knew 12 little feet could make such a difference?
At Safeco Field, it literally is a whole new ball game.
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