Thursday, July 21, 2005

Why this isn't 1995

Apparently, the Mariners still aren't convinced they have no hope of reaching the post-season. So says Larry Stone. The wonderful ride of 1995 enables us to think nothing is impossible. But we're in a much different place than in 1995. John McGrath agrees, but doesn't get into details. I will.

Today, the Mariners have 10 days till the trading deadline. They are 41-52, 14 games out of 1st place and seven games out of third place. They are ten games out from the wild card, with eight teams ahead of them in the wild card standings.
In 1995, this is what the standings looked like in the AL West on July 21st:
Team        W - L  Games Behind
California 46 - 32 -
Texas 42 - 36 4
Seattle 38 - 40 8
Oakland 39 - 42 8.5

And the Wild Card Standings on 7-21-1995:

Team W - L Games Behind

Texas 42 - 36 -
Baltimore 38 - 39 3.5
Seattle 38 - 40 4
Kansas City 36 - 39 4.5
Oakland 39 - 42 4.5
New York 36 - 40 5
Though hanging on by a thread, the Mariners were clearly not wildy irrational in 1995 to shoot for a strong finish and a possible first post-season berth in franchise history. (They acquired Norm Charlton on June 14th, and traded for Andy Benes on July 31st.) Though their run to the division title was improbable--it required both a Mariner surge and an Angel collapse--the Wild Card was still within reach.
Moreover, in this strike-shortened season, the season up to this point did not carry the same significance. That is, the 93 games the Mariners have played this year are a greater body of evidence to their true ability than the 78 games played on this date in 1995. The Mariners have had 15 more games this year to show how bad they are.

In addition, the 1995 M's had individual reasons for optimism: an ace starter, who would go on to lead the league in ERA and W-L percentage (Johnson), a designated hitter who would go on to lead the league in batting average, OBP, and doubles (Martinez), and a perennial all-star scheduled to return from injury (Griffey). Power and timely hitting came from Jay Buhner and Tino Martinez, who, along with Edgar, were 3rd, 4th, and 5th in RBIs.

The M's don't have the players they did in 1995, particularly anyone that comes close to what Johnson did. But more importantly, they are nearly twice as many games from a post-season berth this year--in either the divisional or wild-card race. In the wild card race, they are looking up at six more teams than in 1995.

Making the post-season this year would be even more improbable than in 1995. The next chance the M's have of making the post season starts in the spring of 2006, and they need to act accordingly.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Baserunning mistakes

Two important ones tonight:

Morse, trying to stretch a double, loafs out of the box to first, and only turns it on when he sees how deep the ball went into the gap. Then he slides into third on the outfield side of the bag, making the tag easy for Baltimore's third baseman.

Second, Ichiro fails to tag up on a deep, deep fly ball to right center with one out in the bottom of the eighth. A passed ball, an infield hit, or a sharp liner to center gives the M's a lead if Ichiro goes to third. As I type that, we'll see if Sexson can still drive him in. But he should have tagged.

Update: Well, we won anyway. Thanks to a huge Baltimore error, in part, but Morse did his job driving in Beltre.

Making the second half useful.

It's time to stop drifting. The M's season is ending after game 162, and they need to think and act strategically for next season, now.

That means finding a coherent strategy for catching next year. Borders ain't it, and if it's going to be Olivo, then the M's need to develop and execute a coherent plan, not continue the current situation, which makes no sense.

They've made the right call with playing Lopez everyday (though how DFA'ing Boone did anything but completely undermine any trading leverage they had is beyond me). It's time to do the same with Chris Snelling. The M's have 3 viable young outfielders next year to go with Ichiro (add Ibanez if you want): Reed, Snelling, and Choo. Winn is expendable, and should garner something decent in a trade. And there is absolutely NO excuse for using Spiezio as a pinch hitter over Snelling, if the young Australian isn't already in the game.

Pitching? Most are expendable in trades, though I'd be loathe to trade Pineiro now, when his trade value is low. He should slip nicely behind Felix next year. Let's give Jorge Campillo a chance to show if he can be at least as effective as Meche (without the arb-eligible salary), who is trade fodder. Nelson and Hasegawa don't have a future with the M's. Bring up George Sherrill and get him the innings in the Show.

Obviously, it's easy for armchair GMs to say "Trade Player X!" when we're not the ones on the phones trying to get value for value. But the current treatment of Snelling and Olivo suggests the M's are still drifting aimlessly, not acting purposefully.

The one objection I can imagine being raised is something along the lines of "what message does it send to the fans to give up on this season?" That's a lazy cop-out. If the concern is with P.R., the answer is to do what good politicians do: stay on message. For example:

What does is say to your fans to trading Player X?
"It says we are committed to turning this franchise into a winning one, consistently. We have some great outfielders that can step in, and are using this trade to improve our pitching."
Will you miss veteran leadership of Player Y?
"Our chief concern is giving experience to the players we believe will make us a winning team for years to come."
What do you say to fans who don't want to go through a rebuilding phase?
"Fans know this team needs to improve. We took some important steps last year, but we are not going to pretend that was enough; we're going to improve this team further, and do it now, so fans won't have to endure a long rebuilding phase. Beyond that, these new young players are exciting to watch."

All this requires strong leadership that has the vision, courage, and determination to improve the team and articulate that vision without apology.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Protecting our homeland

I can rest easier at night knowing that our homeland is safe from the terror of cheap knock-offs. In a post-9-11 world, we can take no chances.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Blogosphere Evolution

It continues. See the sidebar for newer blogs and a new section for old blogs that look about as active as the M's pitching. I've also removed some who, sadly, have not found the time or energy to continue.

I think there's a little bit of fairweather fan in most of us, who have a lot to say when the team is good, and have a much harder time when all we've got to look forward to is half of an inevitably bad season. Nonetheless, its pretty easy to find something interesting about the Mariners every day on one of the many blogs out there, something I very much appreciate.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Notes from July 5th

So I said hi to Ichiro yesterday.

I was in a local Starbucks, and see a guy in line who, I think to myself, looks vaguely like Ichiro. Wait a minute...the Mariners are in town...that IS Ichiro!

So, I went up to him--he was with someone I assumed was with the team (maybe a translator or travel secretary?)--and told he had a good game yesterday, that I was a big fan from Seattle. He said thanks, and got his latte. I know that sounds lame now, but you don't just run into international superstar baseball players from Seattle every day, especially not in Kansas City.

I went to the game again last night. Beltre's home run was a good start, but things went downhill from there. I can report firsthand that what everyone says about Gil Meche is true: great stuff, inconsistent command. His curve was knee-buckling when it was on, but he couldn't throw it for strikes consistently (leaving him behind in the count) and his fastball was up and over the middle (leaving the ball right in KC's hitters wheelhouses). It was a bad combination that the M's couldn't recover from.

Randy Winn looks lost at the plate, even though he did end up with two hits, including a double. He's swinging at bad pitches and looking at good ones. Richie Sexson doesn't look much better, though he also had a similar night. Everybody's going to get some hits in a game where your team swats 14 of them, unless, of course, your name is Pat Borders.

I was really excited to see Snelling up to pinch-hit for Borders in the 8th. Then Buddy Bell made a pitching change, and Snelling got immediately replaced by Scott Spiezio, never taking a pitch. Maybe next time, Chris.

One great thing about baseball is that anything, no matter how unlikely, can happen. I grumbled at the game's start that Hargrove, for some stupid reason, is trying to keep Willie Bloomquist in the starting lineup at all costs. "He can't hit," I said. Well, Willie went 3-3 with a double and a walk. He still may be a 25th-man quality player over the long haul, but he did his part yesterday.

In fact, the difference in this game was mostly in the timing of each team's hitting. The M's finished with more total bases + walks, but KC made the most of their baserunners. They scored four runs in the second with two outs--both strikeouts, no less--with the bottom of the order. If J.J. Putz gets his groundball out first when he enters in the 6th, the run doesn't score (Putz gave up two consecutive flyballs that allowed Shane Costa to move from second to third, then score).

Oh, and I caught a Randy Winn foul ball in the eighth.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Independence Day Game Notes

I went to the game today, though with nosebleed seats (I was with friends and didn't bother to move down to good seats, which is always possible at Kauffman), I don't know how much more I'll be able to tell than someone who saw the game on TV.

Ibanez' homerun was a line drive that just kept going--the collective groan by Royals fans happened not on contact, but only after it just cleared the fence. Mike Morse took a walk, on a 3-1 count, no less. Nice to see Ichiro getting legit hits, as he went 3-for-5. This is the way an offense is supposed to work. Now if only every other team was as hapless as the Royals...

Beltre had some great plays on D, including an over-the-shoulder catch on a pop foul. Willie Bloomquist seems to have a pretty decent arm, actually, for a centerfielder, though he did slighly misjudge what became a Dejesus double--if he hadn't started in first, he could have caught the ball. To be fair, it was hit right at him, which is hard to judge. Franklin worked quickly and did his job, though he never looked dominating. I was surprised when my friend pointed out at the top of the fifth that he hadn't allowed a hit.

Much of this win goes to an absolutely pathetic Royals offense, and a lot of the rest of the credit goes to pathetic Royal pitching. You think the M's are strugling? Mercy. From local post-game radio: new Royals manager Buddy Bell's prescription for the slumping offense is to "be more agressive" because that will "improve their plate discipline." "Maybe that sounds bass-ackwards," he said, but he stuck to that theory. Seriously. Hey, if I had to pick between Bell and Bob Melvin, I'd have made the same choice the M's did.

The fireworks afterwords were great, and we could see smaller stuff going on beyond the outfield all game long. It was not a particularly exciting game, mind you, but the K is a beautiful stadium, the weather was great, and the M's won.