Sunrise in Seattle: Mitch Haniger leads the upstart Seattle Mariners

Seeing that most attention in the AL West is paid to Mike Trout or Shohei Ohtani–or, at least in the last few days, renewed interest in Albert PujolsMitch Haniger might be an oversight.

Did you know Haniger is top-ten in 15 offensive categories as of Friday morning? Or that, in his last 15 games, he’s slashing .339/.397/1.183 with 19 hits against 16 strikeouts? If it’s not Trout or Ohtani or Pujols–that is until he gets 3,000 and everyone can go back to ignoring him–it doesn’t seem to be happening. Granted, Seattle baseball has largely been unremarkable and occasionally bad since their last foray into October in 2001, when they got boat-raced by the Yankees, we as the baseball-loving public (I was going to say ‘Baseball America,’ but you know that’s not going work) tend to go to sleep when the West Coast is still playing ball. So those West Coast teams that don’t exist in Los Angeles tend to be overlooked.

Seattle is solidly in the mix in the West, a half-game out of first place and has four everyday players hitting .290 or better (Haniger, Robinson Cano, Gene Jean Segura and Dee Gordon‘s gaudy .355). General manager Jerry DiPoto has DiPoto’d his club into being nothing if not plucky, despite less-than-stellar performance thus far from fellow Doug Melvin castoff Nelson Cruz and underwhelming starting pitching.

Oh, you didn’t think I’d take this moment to not mention that Melvin Melvin’d Haniger, Milwaukee Brewers 2012 first-round draft pick, away to Arizona in 2014 along with Anthony Banda for Gerardo Parra, did you? Doug Melvin was terrible.

Back to Haniger, though: while he’s feasting off left-handed pitching (.333/.389/.995), it’s not coming at the cost of righties (.299/.379/1.051). In fact, the numbers extrapolate fairly consistently: in his first season playing full-time ball, Mitch Haniger is showing balance and consistency up and down the splits and doing it against good (four HR against the Cleveland Indians, 1.169 OPS against .500+ teams) and less-than-good teams (.967 OPS, 19 RBI) alike.

We’re just over a month into the season, so I get it: Eric Thames erupted last April and sputtered pretty much the rest of the way until putting together a strong close to 2017. Thames, though beloved and has mammoth forearms, also couldn’t hit lefty pitching to save his life last season. Haniger, aforementioned and by contrast, shows the ability to hit for power and average, a sign that Haniger’s consistency is more likely to be the rule rather than the exception. With veteran protection in the lineup and perhaps some moves to address the pitching problem, this is a team that may well be both interesting and a dark horse for the foreseeable future.

It’s really too bad most of America is asleep for this. Haniger, the Mariners and the AL West are all worth staying up for.

Brent Sirvio is a co-founder of Bronx to Bushville. Credit to Khurram “Mitch” Kalim for pushing me to write the story. Stats courtesy Baseball Reference.

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