Month: June 2013

Looking beyond suck: the AL West is up for grabs

Okay the Mariners be bad. Again. For the last decade. Is there a silver lining? Well, maybe. The M’s continue to dance a game and a half or so ahead of the Angels. The Halos remain laughably bad given their ridiculous spending on aging stars. The real news, however, is the hometowne team has pounded the division leading A’s two in a row driving the Athletics into a tie with the Rangers. Texas got off to a huge early lead in the division, but chose June to do a graceless cannonball into an empty swimming pool.

The Mariners go into their series finale with Iwakuma pitching and a scant 9.5 games off the pace in the West. What if they chose today to get healthy, and suddenly remembered, as a team, how to hit? Stranger things have happened, and no other team seems particularly interested in taking charge.

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Kelly Shoppach’s DFA just the most recent in a series of bewildering events.

When I last posted, the M’s were heading into Cleveland after taking two from the Yankees in Gotham.  You remember that don’t you?  The hometown team was nipping at .500 and the M’s looked like they were capable of tangling with a good Indians team: Felix and Iwakuma were each getting a start.

Well, we know what happened in the nearly a month since then.  The M’s were swept four straight by the Tribe in hard fought games decided by bullpens, crept into Anaheim and gave away two games they were completely unprepared to play, looked lifeless against Texas and New York at home, and really haven’t done much since.  They stink.

But they stink in a way that simply doesn’t engender much confidence they’ll get better any year soon. There is some Good, Bad and Ugly to talk about, so let’s take a look.

The Good

Kyle Seager continues to be consistent bright spot in the line-up, and we’d realize it more if the folks around him would be more consistent too. With the glove.  With the bat.  The kid is a baseball rat.

The rotation has had a week of solid performances.  Felix, Iwakuma, Saunders, Harang, and Bonderman have all made at least two consecutive really good performances.  The good part of this is that it brings some needed stability to the back end of the rotation.  The bad parts-and there are so many-Brandon Maurer and Blake Beavan failed, and aren’t contributing.  Harang and Bonderman are not this team’s future, they are simply place holders.  They also aren’t very good and, when I watch, I find myself covering my eyes a lot.  Hopefully they’ll continue performing well until the M’s are ready to make a move with Erasmo Ramirez, Danny Hulzen or somebody else, but the good is not always an unalloyed good. That’s probably not fair.  Harang has two complete game shutouts.  Of course the rest of his games are complete and total shit.

Iwakuma.  Yeah I know I did the rotation already.  I could probably do a separate Felix entry too, but we expect him to be good-he’s making the “he better do good big bucks.”  But ‘Kuma was still a bit of an unknown headed into the season, and he’s been incredible. According to BaseballReference.com, he’s the second most valuable pitcher in the AL with a 3.9 war right behind Clay Buchholz.  He is in the top five in almost all the traditional “good” stats (except wins,) and leads the AL in WHIP.  Iwakuma is consistently a pleasure to watch.

The Bad

The offense sucks.  Have we ever said this before?  The young guys haven’t performed.  The M’s rank at or near the bottom in most offensive statistics.  The most important ones are batting average where they are dead last, and runs scored where they are next to last.  If you can’t hit, you can’t drive in runs, it’s that simple.  OBP doesn’t matter if you have to draw four walks in an inning.  Having more power is nice, but if we’re really just talking solo home runs, that doesn’t help much. Those make losses.  Everything else is window dressing.

Injuries.  The M’s have a ton of injuries.  There is no question in my mind they would be much better if there were fewer broken guys.  Here’s the purple heart list: Josh Kinney and Steven Pryor in the bullpen; Erasmo Ramirez in the starting rotation (but rapidly improving;) Jesus Sucre and Jesus Montero catcher; Justin Smoak 1B; Kendrys Morales 1B/DH (still on roster;) Michael Morse OF/1B/DH (still on roster;) Franklin Gutierrez (still keeping the Franklin Gutierrez honorary hospital bed warm.)  If some of these guys were healthy I think the M’s would be better.  Having Morales and Morse both on the semi-invalided list this week has meant the M’s are playing short handed, and their two most useful bats are on the trainer’s table. If Kinney and Pryor were healthy the bullpen would definitely be more solid.  I wrote extensively about the problems with depending on a healthy Gutierrez, which is a little like depending on a roll of seven at the craps table to pay one’s mortgage.  His injury and the early injury to Michael Saunders, combined with the Morse quad pull has forced the M’s to play Jason Bay, Raul Ibanez, and Endy Chavez almost daily.  They weren’t brought on the team for that purpose.  It exposes their weaknesses, and makes the team worse.  They’re doing their jobs the best they can, but it won’t win many ball games.

Youth Movement stalls.  I don’t think I’ve ever been so disappointed about  the M’s young players, with the exception of Seager, and what they’ve accomplished.  Rather than build on last year’s foot forward in the big leagues, the guys the M’s were counting on to build on whatever success they had have augured in.  Dustin Ackley and Jesus Montero both made the hour long trek to Cheney Stadium.  Brandon Maurer just wasn’t ready. Stephen Pryor and Erasmo Ramirez are hurt.  Michael Saunders has taken a massive step backward after showing how effective he could be before a shoulder injury laid him out early in the season.

And those are just the guys that spent some time in the bigs before the recent collapse.  The M’s resorted to the veteran bargain bin that brought us Saunders, Harang, and Bonderman because they were counting on the Big Three (plus however many) to start climbing into their spots in the rotation.  That doesn’t look close.  After banishing Ackley and Montero to the minors to figure things out, the M’s have called up the next wave-Nick Franklin, Jesus Sucre, and Mike Zunino.  Though each have shown inklings they can do things as advertized, why should we believe they are any better than “can’t miss” guys like Ackley, Montero, and Smoak.  Smoak!!!  So much has gone wrong, different than what was promised, it’s difficult to continue to believe Jack Zderencik picked winners in the prospect department.  Stefan Romero, the second coming of Dustin Ackley as an outfielder, Brad Miller, maybe they’re the real deal, maybe not.

Bullpen inconsistency.  Coming in to the season, I would have thought, based on last year’s performance, the bullpen would be a strength.  In many ways the bullpen failures of the last four weeks represent the Mariners’ failures over the same time.  The four game sweep in Cleveland is because the M’s bullpen couldn’t keep pace with the Cleveland bullpen.  Tom Wilhelmsen’s struggle to command his pitches have become emblematic of the the M’s struggle to first attain a lead, no matter how slim, and then hold on to it for a win. Though Oliver Perez held on to last night’s 3-2 win in Oakland, it’s unclear that he has the stuff to consistently close every night.  Though Carter Capps may eventually have the stuff to be a ninth inning warrior, his pitches visit the strike zone infrequently enough to make the point moot for now.  The loss of Pryor really hurts right now.  The others-Danny Farquar, Lucas Luetge, Charlie Furbush and Yoervis Medina simply lack the stuff or the experience to fill the closer spot.  So here we are, about the same place we were last year with Brandon League struggling and badly needed wins slipping away.

The Ugly

It’s hard to put any kind of gloss on what is going on this year.  I figured incremental improvement with progress to about .500.  Instead the season has coughed, sputtered, and now it almost seems like someone has opened a hidden trap door.  With the injuries and lack of performance, the front office has had its opportunity to look lost.  I’ve never seen so many player moves with a resulting list of guys Designated For Assignment:

Kameron Loe (who was just terrible)

Robert Andino, a playoff hero for the Orioles-gone.

Francisco Martinez came over in the Doug Fister trade.  Was a third baseman with no power and when the M’s moved him to center field they learned he couldn’t hit in any position

Vinnie Catricala was a minor league player of the year.  Except he couldn’t play a position, which meant he couldn’t really be your player of the year.

Carlos Triunfel is on the Cheney-Safeco shuttle

Brandon Bantz, up after Sucre was hurt, played one game and DFA, though sent back to obscurity in the minors

Kelly Shoppach was DFA’ed when the immortal Henry Blanco became available. Go figure.

There are a bajillion questions and and observations I have about this team right now, but it really needs another post or twelve to do that.  I’ll sum this up with a simple question:  what were you thinking?

  • This team was built around the notion Franklin Gutierrez would be healthy and play centerfield, despite all the evidence in the world he could not stay healthy.  When Saunders got hurt it was in a terrible bind.  When Morse got hurt it was even worse.  What were you thinking?  Didn’t I mention earlier the importance of having a healthy center fielder and the availability of Michael Bourn?  What were you thinking?  If centerfield is healthy then Bay and Ibanez become useful pieces instead of overused pieces.
  • This team started out with two very young pitchers, Beaven and Maurer in the four and five spots in the rotation.  They hadn’t proven anything at the major league level and mostly struggled before being sent down to the minors. They’ve been forced to turn to reclamation projects in Harang and Bonderman who have also struggled, though they’ve had some successes.  It’s unclear whether the positives will continue.  What were you thinking?  A quality pitcher like Kyle Lohse was available well into Spring Training.  I’m sure the lure of the Big Three (plus however many) was a temptation down the road, but they’re no closer to the majors today than they were in March.  The lure is a trap.  What were you thinking?

These two of a plethora of issues beg to know the answer to this question:  Who the heck is in charge.  Is it Zdurencik?  If it is he’s supplying answers based on an awful lot of hope and not on reality and a further slide should cost him his job.  If it’s not Zdurencik making these baseball decisions, then I am at last ready to buy into all the cynicism surrounding this ownership group.  It is hard to be a fan of the Seattle Mariners, but here I am.