Welcome Lloyd McClendon: be prepared to duck

The Mariners are hiring Lloyd McClendon to be the manager of your Seattle Mariners.  I wish McClendon the best, I really do.  He was manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates 2001-05.  The Pirates were terrible, they were doomed to be terrible.  There was nothing McClendon could do about, they were going to suck. After his firing, McClendon went to the Detroit Tigers as hitting coach.  The Tigers do not suck, making it to the ALCS the last three years, and the World Series in 2012. Unfortunately, his time in Seattle is more likely to look like 2001-2005 than the last three in Detroit.

The hiring has brought a collective sigh from much of the blogosphere.  Lookout Landing and USS Mariner are both lamenting the hiring.  Jeff Sullivan went so far as to point out the hiring of six managers with no previous major league managerial experience, and that McClendon’s hiring was disappointing and uninteresting.  Comments to both the LL column by Scott Weber and the Sullivan post showed little enthusiasm for the hire.

My response is likewise nonplussed.  I don’t buy the whole McClendon is just another failed retread argument.  The guy did the best he could in an impossible situation in Pittsburgh.  John McGraw couldn’t have won in Pittsburgh.  He was fiery and inspired his players.  Are we saying we can’t use a fiery inspiring field leader at Safeco Field?  C’mon.  Lou Piniella is going to be the next entry into the Mariner Hall of Fame.  If McClendon could channel a bit of St. Lou, wouldn’t that be just a bit inspiring and interesting?  Jim Leyland explained that McClendon was key to the Tigers’ success.  Hasn’t the guy earned another shot?

My lack of enthusiasm isn’t because of McClendon’s perceived failure.  I just don’t think he can do a damn thing for this team.  Unless the front office opens its wallet, and Jack Zdurencik spends the cash wisely, I don’t believe Lloyd McClendon, or Joe Girardi, or Tony LaRussa, or GOD HIMSELF can make this a .500 team, let alone compete for a playoff spot. This is complicated by the perception of this team in the baseball world.  The Mariners are seen as badly run, and not dedicated to winning.  They may have a few interesting bits, but as teams go, it’s as poorly run as any team this side of Jeffrey Loria. Why would Jacoby Ellsbury consider leaving the world champion Red Sox, even for two truckloads of money, to come to the baseball hellhole of the West Coast?  Trading is also a possible way to get talent, but this organization is talent-thin (!?!) and risks blowing more holes in what they have by trading for what they don’t got. And what was the last good trade the Mariners made?  2009?

And I would repeat again-what the fuck is the plan?  How much input will McClendon have into the plan, and will the plan in December 2013 be same as the plan in July of 2014?  If the plan changes will Howie, Chuckie and Jackie let Lloyd in on it?

Perhaps the biggest task McClendon faces is changing the perception of this team.  Not just in the baseball world, but here in the Pacific Northwest.  How does he get someone like me–angry, cynical, alienated, but at core ever hopeful, unable to abandon the home town team I love for another–to care about this team on a nightly basis for 162 games.  All the umpire baiting, base thefts, and promises to play the game the right way won’t make this team a winner, only the talent can do that.

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Surveying the wasteland and charting a course for 2014

It’s been a long time since my last post.  The Mariners turned in an apocalyptically bad second half of the season, so poor that I simply lost hope and lost heart.  I finished the schedule with a fire ’em all attitude.  Not like me, really. I’m an eternal optimist, a glass half full kind of guy.  I’ve always been able to find some kind of silver lining in a Mariners season.

Not this year.  In every phase of the game, from the starting rotation, to the bullpen, on offense and defense, the Mariners simply weren’t very good.  With the exception of Hisashi Iwakuma, there really wasn’t a player I can point at and suggest that this guy took a big step forward. The roster Jack Zdurencik constructed this year was so flawed, it is my belief he should have been fired at the end of the season.  Eric Wedge probably should have been fired too, but he made it easy by catching the first bus out of town.

If you check my comments from the beginning of the season, I voiced concerns about depending on a healthy Franklin Gutierrez in center field, and relying on two youngsters to make do in the starting rotation.  I was right, only it was even worse than i feared.  Gutierrez didn’t make it out of spring training, leaving the team without a serviceable center fielder.  Michael Saunders and Michael Morse were both injured early in the year, which left the M’s to make do with the agerific Jason Bay, Raul Ibanez and  Endy Chavez.  Outfield defense was ghastly as Saunders spent much of the year filling in at center, not the position he is best suited for.  The M’s off-season decision to pursue sock rather than a workable outfield left them in dire straits with balls not caught and bonus runs allowed.

I also suggested the team would go as far its rotation took it.  While I questioned whether Hiroshi Iwakuma could hang in for the entire season, he ended up being the star of the show. with his 219.2 innings pitched, his 14-6 record and his 1.006 WHIP.  Felix Hernandez, after inking a lucrative contract extension performed well for four and half months of the season and limped through the remainder for the second year in a row.  The rest of the staff could have been replaced by an ambidextrous  octopus named Willy and been far more entertaining.  Joe Saunders, a major off-season acquisition to replace the traded Jason Vargas was anything but an adequate fill in No.3.  The combination of kiddie corps and has beens run out at four and five were generally hopeless.

I did not foresee the great bonfire nightly sprouting from the Mariner bullpen, but bullpens do often morph quickly from very good to the level of Ray Bradbury’s “firemen.” This year was the Mariners’ turn to watch Tom Wilhelmson and company spark a blaze wherever they went. People can talk up Yoervis Medina and Danny Farquhar as much as they want, but I am not convinced.

Offensively there was some improvement, but not in a knock your socks off fashion.  They were second in home runs, seventh in walks, and eighth in runs scored, but bad at almost everything else, especially batting average where they were dead last in the American League.  Some of it was injuries, some of it was kids, but most of the problem was they just weren’t fucking good enough.

At the end of the day I look at this team, I look at the plan to develop the kids, I look at the players who are here and those who are likely to play regularly next year and all I can do is shriek “Where the fuck are we???!!?  This team has money.  It must spend it, and wisely to supplement

We are year six of Zdurencik’s rebuild and this is what I see:

This team desperately needs an outfield.  Bring back Michael Saunders as a corner outfielder and Abraham Almonte as a number four guy.  I like both these players, but Saunders should not be exposed as a center fielder, and though Almonte could be a regular guy after a season playing in the bigs, he isn’t ready now.  The Mariners must bring in a real, live center fielder.  Empty a dump truck of cash at the door of Jacoby Ellsbury, swap for Peter Bourjos, I don’t care but make it a legit guy who can play the position.  No half measures.  I like Shin Soo Choo, but he is not a center fielder, he’s a corner guy.  Not Curtis Granderson, he used to be a center fielder.  However the quest for a center fielder does not preclude bringing in another outfielder–we need one more not named Raul Ibanez.  I have the utmost respect for Ibanez, I truly do.  He’s a good guy who had a decent year, but he doesn’t play in my outfield, except as a number five guy. We must have another corner outfielder.

Somebody needs to step up on the infield.  I have no problem with Kyle Seager at third, despite his season ending slump.  But the situation at second and shortstop needs to be sorted out.  Note that I did not include Dustin Ackley in the outfield, particularly not at center.  If Dustin Ackley is our centerfielder on opening day, I swear I will give up the Mariners forever, sort of, maybe, or perhaps just as natural disaster coverage rather than sport. No, Dustin Ackley belongs at second base, where he is a fine defender.  If he can also be a productive hitter, that’s where he belongs. I am a Brad Miller fan, despite his defensive limitations.  He brings speed and a productive bat to shortstop.  I also believe many of his defensive issues can be resolved with experience and maturity (but what do I know.) My faith in Justin Smoak is diminished but considering the other problems the M’s have, I don’t go shopping for a first baseman.  Nick Franklin’s situation is tenuous in my book.  He truly looked lost after July, and it’s hard to know whether he is a washout or just needs more seasoning.  I’m opting for Tacoma.

Kendrys Morales, Seager and Ibanez were the only consistent producers for the Mariners last year.  Seager will be back, but the M’s must make an effort to re-sign Morales.  Morales led the team in average, extra base hits and rbi’s and will be better with a stronger lineup.  Ibanez maybe, but I’m unsure of his role.  Raul shouldn’t be relied upon for any defensive position, and I doubt his bat will be very effective if he sits much.  Probably time to part the ways unless he comes back as a DH.

The rotation is a situation that begs for real leadership.  The temptation is going to be to make do with the King, Iwakuma and three youngters.  Dumb, disaster, I can smell doom 162 games away.  This team needs not one, but two more trusted veteran starters.  No reclamation products.  No veterans coming off of bad years hoping to catch lightning in a bottle.  Somebody good. Jason Vargas is available.  Maybe Vargas and a right handed version of Jason Vargas.  That leaves one slot left for Taijuan Walker, James Paxton and Brandon Maurer to fight over.  It gives the M’s some depth in case of injury, or somebody to promote at the trade deadline.  Let these kids earn their way on to the rotation and don’t stick them somewhere they don’t belong. Believe me, I have faith in these guys, and they need to repay that with performance, not some kind of pitching welfare.

Last, but not least, the M’s need to repair their bullpen.  Carter Capps, Carson Smith, Stephen Pryor may all help the Farquhar/Medina regime, but they need some proven veterans to bolster that staff.

If was an M’s decision maker for next year these are my priorities:

1.  Legit center fielder–Ellsbury is fine, but somebody who belongs there.

2.  Two additions to the pitching rotation at 3 and 4, with honest competition between the kids for number five. (Oh and I might consider extending Iwakuma.)

3. Corner outfielder that can get on base, with some power.

4. Re-sign Kendrys Morales

5.  Rebuild the bullpen

 

Keeping Faith

In the middle of August, and the Mariners out of contention, again, it’s hard to write much about this team.  Three-fifths of the starting rotations is inconsistent to terrible.  The bullpen is a major disappointment.  Defense is deteriorating.  The bats are sleeping-again.  I’m never going to be a beat writer, so it’s hard to be super positive based on the results.  Am I just supposed to say–geez, these guys suck, again?

It’s often difficult to watch this teams without thinking solely about next year, or without getting demoralized and moving on to the excitement building around the Seahawks.  Though I wish the Seahawks well, and will doubtless watch their games on the tube, I’m not as emotionally invested in them as I am the M’s.  C’mon it’s football, there’s at least a hundred reason why baseball is better than football (see Thomas Boswell.)  And for all their troubles, the M’s still hold out promise for improvement, even if they haven’t played like it lately.

Here are some things to think about:

Justin Smoak:  No player in recent M’s history has attracted as many words or as much angst as the M’s big first baseman.  After  years flailing in the wilderness, Smoak has crafted an interesting year.  With a line of .270/.367/.450, and an OP’S+ of 135, the former Gamecock is finally approaching the potential expected of him when he was the centerpiece of the Cliff Lee deal with Texas a few years back.  He’s learned to command the strike zone, isn’t afraid to take a walk, and no longer looks like a deranged windmill flailing away at low inside pitches he can’t possibly get to. 

Justin is making himself an integral piece of the Mariners’ future, but he still has a few things to improve on.  Though he’s had far fewer plate appearances than last year, his extra-base hits are down.  Smoak also hits poorly from the right side against left handed pitchers.  His splits are-left handed-.304/.406/.611, and right-handed .189/.270/.233.  Is it time to abandon the switch?

The Kids: I dunno about you, but I love watching Nick Franklin, Brad Miller and (before he was hurt) Mike Zunino play.  Yes, they are inconsistent and they make mistakes. They’ll have periods of struggle at the plate because they are young.  But they bring a fire to the game this team desperately needs.  The Brendan Ryan regime at shortstop has ended.  The Ackley experiment at second base has evolved into, well, we don’t know.  The litany of failed catching experiments from Ben Davis to Kenji Johjima to Miguel Olivo 2.0 is over.  Will these young players take us to the promised land?  Too early to tell, check back next year at this time.  But they play hard, and they could be the M’s version of Trammell to Whittaker.  They seem eager to learn. They’re fun to watch . . . most of the time.

Kyle Seager-I’m not sure, given the Mariners history with their kids and sophomore crashes, everyone believed the young third baseman would have the kind of year he’s having.  Last year .259/.316/.423 an OPS+ of  109.  This year .290/.357/.472 with OPS+ of 137.  Seager is clearly the leader of the youth movement.  He’s played a decent third base and his OPS + puts him at 10th in the league.  Kyle Seager is no longer a prospect, rather he is an offensive star in the American League.

Felix and Kuma-I am not one of those who say pitching and defense make for a boring game.  I think the steroid era was a blight on the game and continues to shape baseball today with the rise in strikeouts and the way some players, such as Mark Reynolds and even Michael Morse are all-or-nothing hitters. That said, the Mariners are quite fortunate to have the services of Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma.  They’ve demonstrated that, at least in this season, they are two of the finest pitchers in the game.  Though both have blown up occasionally (I mean Cy Young leads the majors in most career wins and career losses) they’ve been steadily among the league leaders in things that matter, like innings pitched, ERA, hits and walks per nine innings.  In fact, it’s just amazing how consistently they are ranked among the top ten for the good stuff.   The M’s are fortunate to have two fine starters under their control for next year.  About the remaining three spots . . . not so much.

Kendrys Morales-The M’s brought in lots of veterans to add some offensive leadership to this team.  Jason Bay, Kendrys Morales, Raoul Ibanez, and Michael Morse were all intended to take some of the offensive load of the youngsters and provide some leadership in the clubhouse.  In the beginning of the season they did exactly that.  Injury took out Morse and veteran holdover Franklin Gutierrez. Bay and Ibanez were forced into the roles of regulars they were not intended for.  Bay is gone.  Ibanez, though he hit well in the first half simply hasn’t hit a lick since the All-Star break (.167/.222/.231 with no homers.) 

Morales, however, has been steady Eddie for the Mariners.  He leads the team in RBI’s and has kept his average between .280 and .300 through most of the season.  Though there was a fear he’d be a no walk, big strikeout guy, his OBP of .345 is well above league average.  Though he slightly trails Seager for the team lead in extra base hits, Morales is a tranquil leader in the middle of the line up.  The M’s should do what is necessary to bring him back next year to insure the most productive DH since Edgar Martinez and provide a solid anchor in the middle of the order.

While this season is nothing to scream about, there are some reasons to continue watching and reading the Mariners. Don’t know if they’ll make my prediction of 75-81 wins, but it’s still not out of reach.  The young guys at least make them interesting.

 

Taijuan Walker looks good, but not ready for prime time.

Dave asked me to see last night’s Rainiers game.  It was a good night to go.  I don’t think I’ve ever found Cheney Stadium so welcoming with the warm weather and Dave’s excellent seats right behind the home dugout.  Dave’s had seats down the third baseline for years, so I’m used to the awesome seats, but when the stadium remodel went through the Rainiers swapped home and visitors dugout.  Before I was able to see the likes of Stubby Clapp and Rick Sweet close up, tonight it was Michael Morse and Franklin Guttierez.

I was really excited about this game because there are a couple of young guys I’m really interested in: center fielder Abraham Almonte and left fielder Stefen Romero. David’s mentioned Almonte previously, as a good, if light, hitter, with speed, and an excellent defensive player.  In an ESPN interview yesterday, Jack Zdurencik echoed this sentiment, and said Almonte probably had the best outfield arm in the present system on ESPN 710 yesterday. I was also interested in seeing Romero play.  Romero was the M’s Minor League Player of the Year last year. Romero falls into the “bat without a position” category that guys like Mike Carp and Vinnie Catricala have had in the past, but others have suggested he is athletic.  So I was excited to see him in left field.

Taijuan Walker looks like a pitcher.  Tall and lean, he has dominating stuff when he can command it.
Taijuan Walker looks like a pitcher. Tall and lean, he has dominating stuff when he can command it.

But the real draw was Taijuan Walker, the kid pitcher who is the gem in the Biig Three plus or minus however many.  Drafted out of high school, Walker has steadily made his way through the minor leagues, impressing observers with his stuff along the way. I was not disappointed.  Walker looks like a pitcher.  Long and lean, he  throws hard and has good stuff.  His fastball was consistently in the middle 90’s, touching 96-97 on occasion.  His breaking pitch is also very effective, some twenty miles an hour slower than his heater.

But Walker’s outing was not without his problems.  He gave up a homer to longtime Tacoma farmhand Mike Wilson (who received some applause) in the third inning.  His problems were much worse in the fourth, as he struggled with command and allowed four runs.  Though his stuff is dominating, Walker seems to try to strike out every batter, and he throws a lot of pitches.  In his five innings of work, he threw 105 pitches. Bryan Sweeney,  Carter Capps, Bobby LaFramboise and Josh Kinney also got in some work.

It was great to catch Almonte and Romero.  Though he didn’t have much of a night at the plate, Almonte made a great grab in deep center field going back on a ball.  A little guy, he also made a super throw home.  Though it was late, it was on the money on a line from 380 feet away.  I was impressed.  Romero had a hit and scored a run and showed some speed on the bases.  He made the easy plays in left, but missed a diving grab in that maybe he should have tried.  The kid is definitely athletic but needs a bit more time in the outfield. I’m confident we’ll get another look in September.

Walker threw hard, but often seemed to be fighting himself.
Walker threw hard, but often seemed to be fighting himself.

Two of the biggest draws of last night’s game, of course were two rehabbing Mariners, Franklin Gutierrez and Michael Morse.  Gutierrez had a ringing double in the first inning. As the designated hitter for this game, there wasn’t a lot to see.  He was hit by a pitch, which led Dave and I to question whether he would be moved to the 60-day disabled list.  Morse is just flat huge.  Didn’t do much at the plate and his bat looked a little slow.  But the Sea Beast did make a nice running grab in right center.  I was shocked.

It was an exciting game as the Rainiers got out to an early lead.  But Walker’s struggles gave Tucson a 5-4 lead that held until the 8th inning.  Catcher Jason Jaramillo drove in the tying run which forced the game into extra innings.  First baseman Rich Poythress was the hero of the game however.  He hit the walkoff homer in the tenth to send the crowd home 6-5 winners.

It was a great game.  Dave and I are a good match at a ball game.  We’re both looking for the same thing: hustle, athleticism, and smart play.   We’ll have to do it again.

Michael Morse is a very large man.
Michael Morse is a very large man.
Stefen Romero had a hit and showed some speed on the basepaths.
Stefen Romero had a hit and showed some speed on the basepaths.

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.

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.

Who are these Mariners?

Tom Wilhelmson and Jesus Montero celebrate after the final out of last night's Mariners game
Tom Wilhelmson and Jesus Montero celebrate after the final out of last night’s Mariners game

I was able to watch the last three innings of last night’s game in New York. It was gritty, nail-biting baseball at its best.  After Tuesday night’s debacle, I couldn’t even watch the Wednesday demolition Phil Hughes.  I figured if Iwakuma stepped on the mound he’d fall into a pit of hidden punji stakes and the Yankees would win by default.  Instead, it was New York’s turn to suffer a little bit of bad luck as their starter didn’t make it out of the first inning.

Last night, however, was a different kettle of fish.  With projected starter Aaron Harang out with a stiff back, insert Hector Noesi-plan for doom.  But Noesi pitched well, give him credit. When I turned on the game the Mariners led 3-1.  Though they gave up another run, somehow Oliver Perez, Carter Capps, Lucas Luetge, and Tom Wilhelmson managed, to cough, snort, wheeze and belch through the remaining innings but avoid the full body chokefest of Tuesday night, hanging on to the win and the series victory.

This team feels a bit different Somehow I don’t see this team as the same Zdurencik/Wedge teams of the last few years.  In the past, after a dissappointing loss this team would go straight into the can, with a long stretch of losing baseball ahead.  This feels different.  Maybe it’s the veterans on the team.  Maybe it’s the winning.  Maybe it’s the kids getting hungry.

But tell me you weren’t cheering when Kendrys Morales corraled Brendan Ryan’s errant throw to keep Ichiro at third.  Tell me you weren’t watching through your fingers, rubbing your rabbit’s foot when Wilhelmson got Robinson Cano to ground out to end the game despite his early wildness.  Doesn’t this feel different?