Month: April 2016

Which news is bigger?

News today that Howard Lincoln is retiring as CEO of the Mariners. That is huge news.  Chuck Armstrong, gone.  Howard Lincoln gone.  How much longer can the nay-sayers complain about the Chuck and Howie show?

Nintendo has also sold its majority stake in the team to the remaining owners, while retaining a 10% minority share.   Lincoln’s role will be assumed by minority owner John Stanton, a founding member of the cellular company T-Mobile and a minority shareholder in the Sonics during Howard Schultz’s tenure.  Since 2000, Stanton has been a member of the baseball ownership group.

What does it all mean? Damned if I know.  There was a ringing endorsement of President Kevin Mather’s actions, increasing the budget and firing Jack Zdurencik and hiring current G.M. Jerry Dipoto.  Aside from the unfortunate, persistent public criticism of a NBA/NHL arena in SODO, it seems the new boss is same as the old boss.  Let’s see how this all plays out.

But wait, this is all big picture stuff.  YOUR SEATTLE MARINERS ARE IN FIRST PLACE IN THE AL WEST!!!!!

Yes, the same team that went 1-5 in their first homestand, have already doubled their win total in the first two games in a series against the Houston Astros. A brilliant 3-2 gem by Taijuan Walker on Monday was followed by an 11-1 Robinson Cano-led pummeling on Tuesday.  Combined with Rangers and Athletics losses on Monday, the M’s slipped into the lead at 9-7.  On Tuesday they slapped around Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel, reliever Michael Feliz and back-up catcher/bullpen savior Erik Kratz to hold their lead in the face of convincing victories by Texas and Oakland, makes it that much easier to enjoy.

Don’t know how long the Mariners will stay in the lead.  Maybe this is the beginning of the decades anticipated Mariner Juggernaut, or maybe it’s just a little tease.  Might as well play it out and learn.

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April 23, 8 – 8

Iwakuma and Marte
Iwakuma and Marte held the Angels to just two runs before Gutierrez and Cruz sealed the deal in the 10th inning. The win brought the Mariners back to the .500 mark.

It’s been a while since my last post.  Lots of journalism deadlines, and on the road last weekend with my students in Los Angeles adds up to little time to post.

Last night Hisashi Iwakuma filled in for Felix and held the Angels to a couple of runs on six hits on eight strong innings of work. For the second game in a row, one of the Core stepped up to put the game out of reach with a big hit, Nelson Cruz’s two run blast coming on the heels of Franklin Gutierrez’s go ahead RBI.  Steve Cishek’s perfect 10th inning sealed the deal for the Mariners eighth win and his fourth save.

In the twelve days since my last post, with the A’s getting out of town after sweeping the M’s, swiping everything but their jock straps (leaving behind the ugly 1989 caps,) the Mariners have gone 6-4.  They Rangers ran the good ship Mariner on the rocks, but back out on the road, the M’s took series from the Yankees and Indians and poached one from the Angels in Anaheim.

The tone of the fan-base has lightened a little, now that Seattle is looking somewhat respectable.  A game and a half behind leaders Texas and Oakland, but three and half ahead of outhouse dwellers, the Astros, the M’s don’t look quite so hapless.

What does it all mean–not a damn thing. Consider these two numbers:

2014, after 16 games the Mariners were 7-9.  They went on to finish 87-75

2015, after 16 games the Mariners were 7-9.  They went on to finish 76-86

Both teams finished out of the playoffs.  One more number to consider, and that is May 31st.  That is the day the Texas Rangers reached .500 last year at 25-25, after being as many as seven games below .500 in 2015. They won the division.  It’s April 23rd, give it a rest.

Gems

We’ve seen Felix Hernandez, Taijuan Walker and now Iwakuma each turn in one of those dominant performances they are going to have to throw in order for the M’s to have a shot at a playoff spot.

Though he struggled with command in his last start against the Yankees, and seems to have contracted a bug in Anaheim, his April 10 performance against the A’s and Chris Bassitt was vintage Felix.  7.0 IP,  0 Runs, 3 H, 10 K, 2 BB in a loss was much better than his first start or his  more recent start in New York.  In both of those outings he’s struggled with his command and been out of games early.  We need the vintage Felix.

Walker had an excellent outing against the Indians, with 6.0 IP, 1 Run, 3 H, 6 K 0 BB to beat Danny Salazar on April 20.

Last night’s win against the Angels was a reminder of vintage Iwakuma, who has gotten out of the gate slowly.  Throwing only 89 pitches, Iwakuma went 8.0 IP, 2 Runs, 6 H 3 K, 1 BB and a pair of solo homers.  Betcha the Dodgers are thinking twice about letting ‘Kuma go after Scott Kazmir‘s slow start.

Winning late

The Mariners have had three extra innings wins since my last post. They beat Texas April 13th on Dae-ho Lee’s walk-off home run.  Robinson Cano crushed Cody Allen with a long home run to center field on Thursday.  Gutierrez laid the marker with the game winning single last night, followed by the Boomstick blast.

The Mariners were in 23 extra inning games in 2015.  They lost twelve of those, but in addition, they lost 12 more late walk-off games.  So far just one extra inning loss and no walk-off melt downs, though there was that late homer against the A’s on opening night.

Controlling the Zone

At the present time, the M’s have 130 strikeouts, tied with Detroit for 8th in the league.  Last year the Mariners with 2nd, behind the Astros. The are 7th in the league in the walks with 50, about where they were in 2015.  That’s a net minus of 80

Seattle pitchers are fifth in the AL with 140 strikeouts.  They are tied for seventh in the league for fewest walks with 51.  Mariners pitching are a net plus of 89.

Put it all together and you get the Scott Servais Control The Zone factor: 89-80, the M’s are a +9, so they are doing a plus job controlling the zone.  We’ll see how this works out as the season progresses.

Help: More offense needed.

The M’s have scored 64 runs, which puts them at sixth in the American League.  Decent number, right? Wrong. 36 of those runs were scored in just four games, for an average of 9.0 runs in those four wins.  In the remaining 12 games, they’ve scored 28 runs for an average of 2.3 runs per game.  The M’s have scored four or more runs only six times in their 16 games.  That makes it really hard to win consistently.

The Mariners are 10th in the A.L. for OPS with a very mortal .690, despite  Cano’s six home runs.  Though Seth Smith is hitting a robust .303, he’s a platoon player, and Cruz is the only other starter hitting as much as .270.  Definitely room for improvement.

 

Food Poisoning

Ken Griffey Jr., Felix Hernandez
It should have been better. Former Seattle Mariners player Ken Griffey Jr., left, playfully mimics the motion made by Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez (34) from a no-hitter years earlier, after Griffey threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Mariner’ home-opener baseball game against the Oakland Athletics on Friday, April 8, 2016, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

On Friday the Mariners came back to Seattle for a little home cooking. After taking the Texas Rangers to task on the road and winning their three game series, the M’s planned to do the same to open the season at home.  Unfortunately the Oakland A’s were not obliging, sweeping the home team.

In Texas, the M’s scored 21 runs over three games.  At Safeco the A’s allowed only four runs over three games.  It’s not as though the M’s were exactly pummeled, allowing only three runs in game one and two runs in ten innings in the Sunday finale.  No, the news is that they were absolutely bewildered, flummoxed and otherwise discombobulated offensively. The M’s scraped together only 15 hits in the series. (They had 14 against the Rangers in Wednesdays’ game.) They also struck out 25 times and walked only seven times, so they lost the battle to control the zone.

Though offense was in general missing, right-handed hitters failed in those key platoon roles against left handed pitching. Entering Sunday’s game the team was hitting only .167 against southpaws, and four of the six starters they’ve faced were lefties.

Though Sunday’s starter, Chris Bassitt was not a mysterious left-handed gun-slinger, the Mariners could manage little against him either, eking out only three hits to go with five walks, and scoring only one unearned run.  The M’s were 0-8 with runners in scoring position.

As aggravating as the Mariners offensive woes were in this series, the performance of the bullpen is equally disconcerting.  In Texas, the bullpen allowed one hit and no runs in nine innings of work.  At home the relief corps pitched ten innings, allowing five runs on seven hits.  Three of the runs were on solo homers and proved to be the difference in both the Friday and Sunday games.

One always hopes that an opening home series gives us lots to cheer about, builds momentum for a successful season, and gets the fan base fired up for future games.  Instead of home cooking, this felt much more like a nasty case of food poisoning. It’s only one series in a 162-game season, but as the season gets under way one can only hope that scoring runs jumps to the top of their priorities.

The best thing the M’s can do is swallow some Pepto-Bismol, and welcome those Rangers to town for a home series.  They’ll have plenty of opportunities to give the A’s some payback later, but they have to settle their tummies first. Perhaps the Texans will provide the balm the Mariners need.

A couple of numbers to think about

Today is a travel day.  I can’t promise a daily game recap, but I’ll do as many as possible

Here are a few things for you ponder after the three game series with Texas:

  • Today your Seattle Mariners are 2-1 and are in sole possession of first place in the AL West by a half game.  That could change tonight after the Astros play their rubber game against the Yankees.

 

  • The Mariners bullpen, which makes me nervous, had this line in Texas:
    • 9.0 IP, 32 BF, 1 H, 0 ER, 0 R, 5 BB, 14 K.  BA against .037

 

  • Offensively, the Mariners had quite a split against left handed and right handed pitching.
    • The Mariners faced two left-handed starters and two left handed relievers
      • 16.1 IP, 64 BF, 8 H, 5 R, 4 HR, 8 BB, 12 K, 2 HBP, BA allowed .148
    • The Mariners faced one right-handed starter and five right-handed relievers
      • 10.2 IP, 50 BF, 20 H, 16 R, 5 HR, 7 BB, 7 K, 1 HBP, BA allowed .476
  • What does it all mean?  Are the M’s just killing right handed pitching? Will they continue killing right-handed pitching?  Are Rangers right-handers, especially in the bullpen, just that bad? Does this foretell anything, or is it just one series-cover your eyes and move on?

 

It’s so super early in the season, it’s too soon to know much about anything.  I like to give any team 50 games before deciding I know what a team is about.  That’s Monday, May 30 against San Diego at Safeco Field, for those keeping score.

Still, it’s hard not to be excited about the team’s offensive explosion, when for years the Mariners have underperformed. Just gotta keep it all in perspective.  Just to help the too optimistic or too pessimistic, the winningest teams in baseball history, the 1906 Chicago Cubs, or if you prefer your winningest teams home-grown, the 2001 Seattle Mariners were 116-36 and 116-46 respectively.  They lost more than a game or two, and the 2016 version of the Mariners are likely to be even less successful.  Enjoy the ride.

M’s come home 2-1

Cano homers in ninth

The Mariners left for Seattle taking two games from Texas in Globe Life Park, after Monday’s loss. I saw lots of “same ol’ M’s” comments after Monday’s sloppy 3-2 loss. I’m hoping the doubters are a bit more willing to take the season with an open mind after today’s 9-5 comeback victory and after last night’s 10-2 pummeling against the Rangers.

Just a recap if you, like me, were forced to rely on other technological means than radio or television to catch today’s game.  The M’s scored early again, with two runs in the first inning on another Robinson Cano home run.  They picked up a solo run in the third off Rangers starter Colby Lewis.  Wade Miley rapidly worked through the Rangers first, but gave up three quick runs in the second, and allowed a two run homer to Prince Fielder in the 6th.  Rangers up 5-3.  I was certainly nervous.  But Robinson Cano drove in another run in the 7th with a bases loaded walk, Rangers 5-4.  In the top of the 9th, the Mariners bartendered Rangers closer Shawn Tolleson, scoring five runs capped with a two run dinger from Robinson Cano. Mariners lead 9-5.  Closer Steve Cishek came in and was perfect in a non-save situation. Bartendered-that’s a verb.  Any word can be a verb in English.

So the Mariners come home 2-1 after their first, albeit brief, road trip.  The early Mariners have a tough early schedule, lots of road games, lots of games against winning teams.  Jayson Stark suggested the importance of the M’s getting off to a fast start, assuming the role of Houston last year, who blazed to an early lead in the AL West. So winning these early road games is important.  Of course, winning at home has been difficult for the M’s too, so they just need to win ’em all.

The Good

Offense

The Mariners amassed 14 hits and 6 walks.  Three more home runs with two by Robinson Cano and one by Leonys Martin. Kind of makes swallowing Monday’s four hit performance a little easier. Every hitter except catcher Steve Clevenger had a hit. Ketel Marte, who struggled in the first two games offensively and defensively, got on board with three hits and a run scored.

Controlling the Zone

After Cole Hamels and company had their way with the Mariners on Monday with 11 strikeouts, the M’s have responded with consecutive games of only 4 and 6 strikeouts Tuesday and Wednesday respectively.  By contrast, the Mariners mirrored the K’s with 4 walks yesterday and 6 walks today.

The Bullpen

In nine innings the bullpen has allowed exactly zero runs.  We’ve seen every pitcher except Vidal Nuno, had two inning outings from Mike Montgomery and Tony Zych, and Nick Vincent appeared in back to back games. Nada. Today closer Steve Cishek appeared in a non save situation-nails, perfect, lights out. Don’t know how long it will last, but I feel like I’m dreaming and don’t want to wake up.

Concerns

Wade Miley

I don’t know how concerned I am really, but Miley pitched six innings, wasted no time about it, struck out seven and walked nobody.  Unfortunately, along the way he gave up five runs very quickly.  He was able to get out of innings, but it’s like he’s cruising and then wham.  More than anything, I’m concerned there wasn’t a strong start by any of the three guys leading off the Mariners rotation.  Hopefully it’s just first start adjustments and not something more concerning.

So the M’s come home, advantage Mariners.  Gotta say I love the new blue jerseys.  Might have to get me one of those.

 

 

We love you Tommy, but you’re the enemy now

Servais
Scott Servais calls out Jeff Bannister in the 7th inning of the Mariners win over the Texas Rangers 10-2.

The M’s mashed the Rangers 10-2 tonight.  Almost all the things I hoped I’d see from this team I saw at bat I saw.  Iwakuma’s outing seemed like a struggle, though maybe it was just the Rangers’ talent for working pitches that made it seem so hard.

For me, the highlight of the game was watching Leonys Martin drive in Seth Smith in the seventh inning for the go-ahead run.  I’m sure for others, it was the dismantling of Tom Wilhemsen in the 8th inning. The Bartender’s line for the season (one outing) 0 IP, 4 hits, 5 ER, infinite ERA.

The Good

Hits galore

Unlike yesterday’s offensive struggle, the M’s pounded out 11 hits.  In the early going it seemed the Mariners were going to have a hard time against another lefty starter, and Martin Perez only allowed two hits with four walks. But when the Texas bullpen arrived on the scene to start the 7th inning, and Servais began rotating in more left handed bats against the right-handed relief corps, things really did break loose.  Yes, there were the homers, but there was some decent clutch hitting as well by Martin, Iannetta, Aoki, exactly what we hoped we’d see.

The Bullpen

The Mariners bullpen offered up three subjects to sacrifice on the altar of the bullpen gods.  They were all great. Nick Vincent,  Joel Peralta, and Tony Zych pitched four innings allowing 0 runs, 1 hit, 2 BB’s and 6 K’s.  Though Zych wobbled a bit in the 9th, he was never in serious trouble.

Scott Servais

When Wilhelmsen plunked Iannetta amidst the carnage of his outing, and Iannetta protested, Texas manager Jeff Bannister was inexplicably on the top step of the dugout hollering back at the Mariner catcher. Servais was immediately out of the dugout, on to the field, pointing at Bannister and the Texas dugout.  The message to Texas: Enough of your bullshit.  The message to his team: It’s Game two. We play these guys 17 more times, and I’ve got your back game two and every one of those 17 games.

Chris Iannetta

Yeah, no homers for Iannetta tonight.  All he’s done is get on base in five of his first six at bats, drive in two runs, and throw out Elvis Andrus trying to steal.  I know it’s only the second game of the season, but he looks great out there working with pitchers and at bat.  I’m going to enjoy it as long as I can.

The less than good

Kuma

Iwakuma was not particularly sharp tonight.  He uncharacteristically walked three batters and threw 90 pitches to get through his five innings. It sure seemed like his velocity is down a tick or two on both his fastball and breaking ball.  Hope that isn’t a permanent thing.

Strike Zone

I rarely criticize umpires, but Marvin Hudson’s strike zone really seemed to jump around, making it hard for pitchers and batters.  I know it’s only game two for the umpires too, but c’mon, at least be consistent.

It was good to get this win, but the Mariners play again tomorrow, another day game, followed by another day game for the home opener.  This is killin’ me.

I was truly sorry when the Mariners traded Wilhelmsen to the Rangers.  He was one of those Mariners I really did enjoy, and when he was good, he was very good. At least for tonight, with Martin’s double and run, and Tommy’s complete undressing, the M’s, for today, appear to have won that trade.  Round 3 tomorrow: Wade Miley vs. Colby Lewis.

 

Opening day . . . sigh

Cano homers opening day
Cano goes yard in his first at-bat.  Photo from mlb.com

The M’s opened  at the Ballpark in Arlington today.  I wish there was good news to report. The M’s lost to the Rangers 3-2.  Kind of a strange day and kind of a strange game. Back to school today, so no radio or television for me. All I could do was steal glimpses on Gameday in between discussion of the loneliest character in Of Mice and Men. Before our disagreement between the Crooks faction and those who believed it was Curley’s wife (she has no name, you can look it up,) the Mariners were leading on a pair of home runs by Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager.  By the time we were done, the M’s were down 3-2, which is how it ended.

The Good

Dingers

Cano and Seager both homered, both solo shots.  And that’s good because there simply weren’t many hits falling from the trees for either team today.  Cano laid down his marker in his first at-bat with an emphatic STFU to the baseball press who have suggested his skills at the advanced age of 33 are on the decline.

Bafflement

Yes, bafflement is a real word.  And that’s what starter Felix Hernandez and reliever Mike Montgomery caused in the Rangers lineup.  Only one hit allowed and ten strikeouts.  If Mariners pitching can do that regularly we’d be talking about a lot of wins.

Mike Montgomery

Montgomery pitched two innings of relief allowing a walk and no hits while striking out four. Pretty good line for a guy who went in to Spring Training trying to win a starting gig. Hopefully the start of something big for the big left-hander and some confidence-building for the bullpen.

The Bad

Walks

The King allowed five walks, Montgomery one.  Three came in the climactic fifth inning when the Texans scored all their runs off Felix.  Extra base-runners mean too much pressure on defenders to be perfect.  They extend innings.  This can’t happen. Well, maybe if you’re Randy Johnson, but no.

Errors

It seemed like there were a lot of defensive lapses during Spring Training, but today there were two in one inning, with Seager and Marte both allowing extra outs and extra base runners in the fifth inning.  Two errors, three walks and Prince Fielder’s base hit combined to sink the M’s for all three Texas runs.

Where’s the offense?

I was disappointed the Mariners only scored on a pair of solo home runs.  Cole Hamels is a good pitcher,  I get that.  But only four hits paired with 11 strike outs by Ranger pitching, didn’t allow much of a margin for pitching or fielding mistakes.  Unfortunately there were too many of those. Hopefully we’ll see more guys work their way on base, and see some of that speed on the basepaths.  It felt a little like JackieZball today.

Let’s do it again tomorrow.  Later start time so I’ll get to see on the tube.