-- Chris K., Bothell, Wash.
Two positive things happened in the last week in that regard. Obviously, Hernandez's perfect game brought considerable focus on his outstanding midseason run. This wasn't just one game out of the blue, like the perfecto White Sox starter Philip Humber threw on April 21. Hernandez has shutouts over the Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers and Rays in his last 10 starts. That is impressive.
Secondly, the Mariners beat Jered Weaver on Sunday. And while they didn't exactly trash the Angels' ace, they did drop his record to 15-2. Cy Young Award voters have shown that win-loss records aren't the end-all in their decision making, but it's hard to ignore a guy who rolls out a 21-win-type season. Weaver isn't a huge strikeout guy, and thereby loses points on some sabermetric scales, so a few more losses could at least dent the outstanding season he's having in Anaheim.
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Hernandez has certainly thrust himself into the conversation and could do a lot more in the season's final seven weeks. He leads the AL in innings pitched and is tied for second with Detroit's Justin Verlander in strikeouts. And he's put up an 11-5 record with a 2.60 ERA, a 1.04 WHIP and four shutouts already.
When he won the Cy Young Award in 2010, Hernandez went 13-12 with a 2.27 ERA, a 1.06 WHIP and one shutout, with very similar strikeout ratios. But Weaver not only has the shiny 15-2 record right now, he also owns the AL's lowest ERA (2.22) and WHIP (0.92).
Verlander (12-7, 2.46 ERA, 0.99 WHIP) is right there again this season trying to defend his crown, and Tampa Bay's David Price (15-4, 2.50, 1.12) and the White Sox Chris Sale (14-3, 2.60, 1.02) can't be ignored. So, lots of legit contenders ... and lots could still change with about eight starts to go apiece.
What are Brendan Ryan's chances of winning a Gold Glove this year?
-- Elvin P., Vancouver, Wash.
Great question. I'm of the opinion that Ryan is clearly one of the best shortstops in the game. He's committed just four errors and has all the defensive metrics to back him up. But Gold Gloves often come down to reputation and even seem weighted toward guys who have better offensive years as well.
Ryan wasn't among the three AL finalists at shortstop last year when the Angels' Erick Aybar won (after hitting .279, by the way). Baltimore's J.J. Hardy and Cleveland's Asdrubral Cabrera were the other finalists.
This year, Ryan is the runaway leader at the moment in UZR ratings by FanGraphs among AL shortstops, ahead of Toronto's Yunel Escobar and the Rangers' Elvis Andrus. A year ago, he was fifth in UZR ratings in the AL, but the White Sox Alexei Ramirez was first, and he wasn't one of the finalists either.
Bottom line: Defense remains a tough thing to measure, and Gold Gloves are rewarded on a vote of the game's managers and coaches. My guess is Ryan is rising in respect at his position as he continues his stellar play, but his .199 batting average isn't going to help, even though that clearly shouldn't matter in that particular award.
Would the Mariners be willing to trade a guy like James Paxton, and then some, for a bat like Josh Willingham?
-- Riley S., Monroe, Wash.
I don't ever get into specific questions about "could this guy be traded for that guy" because it's pointless to speculate. But I will say that in general terms, general manager Jack Zduriencik already showed he was willing to deal from his pitching strength to improve the offense when he sent Michael Pineda to the Yankees for Jesus Montero.
So, no, it wouldn't surprise me if that sort of deal played out again this offseason, given pitching depth remains the organization's strength. I just don't think anybody knows what names might be involved at this point.
What will the Mariners do at first base long-term? Justin Smoak and Mike Carp's time has to be running out, right?
-- Tyler H., Issaquah, Wash.
Sometimes we all need to remember that things can change in a hurry in baseball. This spring, everyone assumed Michael Saunders was out of chances after several disappointing years, but he's proven to be the Mariners' best outfielder this season. Last year, Carp was the breakthrough story; this year, he's had injury problems. Next year? Who knows.
That said, sure, if the club doesn't soon start to see positive signs from Smoak and if Carp can't stay healthy, they'll look to first base as a spot to upgrade their offense. That's the nature of the business, and this team will have considerable more salary flexibility this offseason.
There has been so much talk of moving in the fences at Safeco, but what's the point? This would give the same advantage to the away teams and still won't help them hit for average.
-- Patrick M., Federal Way, Wash.
This figures to be the great offseason debate until a decision is announced one way or the other. Your point is valid. Moving in the fences would raise home run totals, but one of the big mysteries of Safeco has been why a park with such a big outfield yields consistently lower batting averages. I believe that answer lies more with the weather than fences, and that the cool, heavy air -- particularly in spring and late fall -- results in balls hanging up longer and allowing outfielders to run more of them down.
Making the field smaller, in theory, would just make it easier for outfielders to track down balls unless they went over the wall. But the flip side is that Safeco currently is such a tough hitter's park for much of the year that players get out of sync trying to compensate. And the park's reputation has spread now to the point where attracting quality offensive free agents is very difficult.
A reasonable adjustment to make Safeco more of a neutral field is certainly possible. But the club has said no such decision will be made until the offseason, so we'll just have to wait and see.