Month: September 2014

From Derek Jeter to Corey Hart

Derek Jeter is safely retired now.  The Yankee shortstop received a memorable send off from the Yankees and every other team in the league as he made his final rounds in 2014.  I am a veteran Yankee hater.  I despise them, I just do.  But individual players from those great Bronx Bombers teams 1996-2000 are hard to dislike.  Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, even Tino Martinez purloined from the 1995 Mariners are all pretty admirable.  At the top of the list, however is Jeter. Jeter is unquestionably a Hall of Fame hitter.  I buy the evidence that he lacked some of the physical talent of many great defensive shortstops.  But one thing you’ll never sell me on is that he wasn’t a very good defensive player.  Brendan Ryan may have had the range and the arm when the Fielding Bible compared the two in 2012, but nobody topped Derek Jeter in baseball smarts.  He is the smartest ballplayer on the field I’ve ever seen and that always allowed him to get the most out of his considerable talents.  Pinstripes or not, Derek Jeter was a classy player and a winner.  He made everyone around him better and I will miss him.

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MLBTradeRumors announced the Mariners designated Corey Hart for assignment.  Hart, you remember him? He was signed by Jack Zdurencik to be the big right handed bat to hit behind Robinson Cano and bring balance and right-handed thump to the line up.  Hart was to play right field, a little DH, and a little first base.  You remember, right?  My personal belief is that this was a whole lot of delusional thinking on Z’s part and I said so last winter.  Hart never got hot, was injured a bunch, really couldn’t play the outfield, and most importantly, could never hit the American League.  He was yet another bargain basement effort to bring a legitimate power bat into the lineup.  Coming off microfracture surgery in both knees, having missed all of the 2013 season, Hart could never get it going.  His slash line was .203/.217/.371 in 255 plate appearances. Corey Hart is the poster child for the things that are wrong with the Mariners.  He had skills that didn’t fit with this team.  He’s a guy who once upon a time was a good player, hit 30 homers, was right-handed.  But his greatest virtue was that he was relatively cheap.  For what Hart accomplished you could buy a lot of bats and balls for his $6 million, and they’d be just as useful.  Hart was 6’6″ of walking talking wishful thinking.  With this year’s success on the field, the Mariners cannot afford any more Corey Harts.

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No Happy Endings for Mariners

This weekend the Mariners came home to Seattle to face the California Angels, the team with the best record in baseball  To sneak into the playoffs the M’s would have to win all three games, and the A’s would have to lose all three of their games to the Texas Rangers, the worst team in baseball.

The M’s did their part, sweeping the Halos in stirring fashion.  It seemed like the A’s might cooperate too and force a one game playoff at Safeco Field on Monday, but no such luck.  Sonny Gray pitched the game of his life to shut out the Rangers 4-0.

Yesterday, during the fifth inning at Safeco Field, the news flashed on the out of town scoreboard news of the A’s win in Arlington.  The 40,000 + who packed the stadium in SoDo erupted into a cheer for the home team that lasted a solid 15 minutes.  To play a meaningful game on the last day of a 162 game season is special indeed.  Unfortunately there would be no ice cream at the end of the season for the 2014 Mariners.

In acknowledging their continued inability to fight their way into the playoffs, it is also important to recognize their achievements. I’ll break the season down in a future post, but here are some overall things to consider

  1. The Mariners improved by 16 games to 87-75.  I predicted they would win 77 games.  I was wrong and so were a whole lot of pre-season prognosticators.
  2. Seattle was second in Major League Baseball in team ERA, first in the American League.  I know there are other meaningful stats, but that’s still pretty telling, and likely the entire mob of them will be back next year.
  3. Last year the Seattle Mariners were the worst defensive team in the American League by a wide margin.  This year they finished in the middle according to UZR and other advanced defensive stats on FanGraphs.  I know that’s not what Blowers and Sims would like you hear, but . . .  Even so, this was a much improved defensive team that made its pitching staff better.
  4. The Mariners excited the fan base to the tune of an addition of 250K more attendees at Safeco Field, and edged over the two million mark, for the first time since 2010.  Not close to the team’s high-water mark in 2002, but an improvement.

This team is set to become a winner.  They’ve gotten a taste of what it’s like to win, to be so close you can taste it.  There will be lots of post-season break downs. The “but they didn’t make it to the World Series” crowd will call for Lincoln and Zdurencik’s heads.  Knowledgeable fans will demand more offense and wait, impatiently, for spring training.  The players will look over the season and know if they had won two more games they’d be in the playoffs this week. There’s nothing good about losing, but this year, not winning will be like a burr under the saddle. The 2007 and 2009 teams were winners too, but they did it with smoke and mirrors and collapsed in the season that followed.  This team is different.  It’s the real deal, and is a team that just needs a couple more pieces.  With very powerful bats.  Preferably right handed. We’ll see.

Congratulations to Lloyd and his boys for an exciting season.  I’m sorry it had to end.

 

The end of all songs

The Mariners win today 7-5 over the Blue Jays.  Yes, it’s good news.  The M’s enter their final series of the season at 84-75.  That’s 13 games better than last year, and we shouldn’t forget the 2014 season is a big step forward over last year.

Even so, it’s hard not to sigh heavily and wonder what the hell went wrong.  Just to be clear, this team was doing quite well until it slipped on a banana peel entering the month of September.  On Monday September 8th, the Mariners defeated Houston at Safeco 4-1 to reach 15 games over .500 at 79-64. It was the high water mark of the season.  Since that day the Mariners have gone 5-11.  After today the Mariners still need a win to equal their win total in 2009.  They can’t reach the 88 wins of the 2007 team. It’s likely they’ll be eliminated by from the wild card race tomorrow unless they sweep the Angels in Seattle, while the Royals and Athletics do a collective double pratfall.

Most discouraging, the Mariners plunge from competition, respectability and national notice is the chief instrument of that decline, the pitching staff.  Yes, the Mariners offense has again begin offensive in most of the losses since September 8th, but its the last few starts by Chris Young and Hisashi Iwakuma together by the last starts against the Blue Jays by James Paxton and Felix Hernandez that seem to put the exclamation point on the disappointing close to a promising season.

There are those who will exclaim “Same ol’ Mariners,” and redouble their pledges to refuse to return to Safeco until Howard Lincoln and Jack Zdurencik are both found floating in Puget Sound.  It’s hard not to be disappointed about the end.  But there are some good things that happened too.

Though the season ending stats may not show it do to this month’s meltdown, but the Mariners pitching staff-starters and relievers-had a stupendous year. Pressed into starting roles by early season injury, Chris Young and Roenis Elias were fabulous.  The bullpen was simply unhittable for most of the season.  Though I sat through the Fernando Rodney-walks-four-guys-to lose-in-ten innings-to-the-A’s game on September 13th, he brought stability to the bullpen allowing Tom Wilhelmson, Danny Farquhar, Justin Leone and late comer Brandon Maurer to thrive.

Offensively, there were lots of guys who had moments, flashes of goodness, but only Robinson Cano had a season of uninterrupted awesomeness. Though Kyle Seager was awfully damn good for 5/6ths of the season, he was pretty well missing these last 20 games.  Dustin Ackley’s comeback was undone by a bad ankle.  Logan Morrison showed us something in September.  Michael Saunders showed us he was injury prone. If this team is to take the next step next year, it’s clear offensive upgrades have to happen.  DH, first base, outfield are all areas that need upgrading.

The rest of the year . . . we’ll see, but I’m done holding my breath and hoping for the best.  Mariners, you’re always in my heart, but you came darn close to breaking it this year.