Holy Schnikes The Mariners Are In A 3-Way Tie For The Second Wild Card!

Caveat:  it’s only August 9th.  But still.

The Seattle Mariners are 2 games over .500 for the fourth time this season, but this one was pretty special.

For starters, Jesus Christ God Dammit Ariel Miranda sure did suck again!  6 runs in 5 innings, including 2 more home runs to give him 29 home runs given up on the season, which is the MOST in the entire Major Leagues.  29 homers in 23 games for Christ’s sake!  29 homers in 131.2 innings!  Or a homer every four and a half innings.  That’s un-fucking-sustainable!  You can’t give up this many homers in a season and expect to keep your job!  I don’t care how low your WHIP is, or how many of those homers are solo homers, eventually that shit’s gonna catch up to you and you’re going to blow up spectacularly!

Take last night, for instance.  Bottom of the first inning, he gave up a double and a walk before Khris Davis’ 3-run bomb to put the Mariners in a HUGE hole.  I’ll accept watching a Miranda start where he battles, or where he looks great those few and far between times, but I absolutely will not accept watching a start where he looks like every other non-Paxton starter in this fucking organization.  No thanks.  Suffice it to say, I was pretty much done with the game after that (and, with my crazy schedule, that’s not a huge sacrifice, considering I would go to bed at 8pm anyway).

What I missed, apparently, was one for the ages.  The M’s got one back in the top of the third when Zunino scored from third on a groundout, but the damage was limited, and the deficit would increase in the bottom half by a couple more runs.  Dyson punched an RBI single to left to make it 5-2 in the fourth, but the A’s would extend it back to 6-2 in the fifth on a solo homer.

With Ariel Miranda sufficiently knocked out of the game (at 86 pitches no less, because he’s efficient even when he’s fucking terrible), that’s when the real fun began.  Gamel knocked in two runs on a double in the sixth, Cruz knocked in another run in the seventh, and Valencia hit a sac fly in the eighth to tie it up.  Along the way, the Mariners got some remarkable relief pitching from the likes of Casey Lawrence, Nick Vincent, and Scrabble to push this game into extras.

Then, in the top of the tenth (after the Mariners walked three times in the ninth and somehow still didn’t score), with two outs, Leonys Martin continued his hot streak since being called back up, jacking a solo homer to right field to give the Mariners the lead.  Edwin Diaz got into a little mini-jam, but got himself out of it for his 24th save on the year.  That puts him 18th all time in Mariners history in most saves in an individual season.  His 42 career saves over his two-season career is 12th on the Mariners’ all time saves list, just a hop and a skip behind the likes of Brandon League, Bobby Ayala, Eddie Guardado, and Fernando Rodney.  So, you know, if you’re expecting Edwin Diaz’s career to go up in smoke, just give him another month or so.  History dictates once a Mariners closer gets between 50-70 saves, he automatically forgets how to get guys out.

What a crazy, VERY important win!  I mean, with the way the A’s are giving up on this season, there’s absolutely no excuse to lose either of these games in this 2-game series.  I know it’s baseball, and anything can happen, but if the Mariners are going to somehow shock the world, they’re going to need to beat up on teams like the A’s.  This is where you EAT!

If it’s all right with you, I think I’ll close by stopping and smelling the roses a little bit.  It’s, frankly, mindblowing how the Mariners are still hanging around in this Wild Card race.  I know there have been other seasons where the Mariners have been in contention in recent years, but this one definitely feels more special given all the Mariners have had to overcome and all that they’ll continue to have to overcome.

First and foremost, it looks like Felix has the same injury he had earlier this year.  They’re saying he’ll be out 3-4 weeks, which puts us into September, but if it’s as bad as the last one was – where he ended up missing almost 2 full months – we might not see him again in the regular season, if at all this year.  I hope the rest of the team can pick him up and carry us into the playoffs, for Felix’s sake, but I’m going to be heartbroken for him if we FINALLY get there for the first time in his career and he ultimately can’t go.  From a psychological standpoint, that might actually be worse than not going at all.

We also got word that David Phelps will miss 2-3 weeks, so it sounds like he’s not as bad off as Felix.  I’m going to hold my breath if it’s all the same to you and hope we get him back on the shorter end of that range rather than the longer.

In Recent Transaction News, Yonder Alonso made his Mariners debut last night, going 1 for 5 with a single, batting in the 2-hole.  Many Yonder jokes were had by all on Twitter.

In Active Roster News, I couldn’t even begin to tell you when this started, but the Mariners are rolling with a 12-man bullpen again.  With Alonso and Valencia effectively platooning at first base, Danny Espinosa as our only utility infielder, and Leonys Martin as our fourth outfielder, the Mariners really can’t afford to go with anything less than a 4-man bench.  With 20 games left in the month – before rosters expand in September – look for the M’s to start shuttling relievers back and forth between Seattle and Tacoma.  At some point, they’re going to have to figure out how much more Erasmo Ramirez they want to see in the rotation; I think my breaking point happened about 3 years ago, but I’ll give the organization another start or two before I start taking bids from local pipe bomb makers.

Terrorism jokes are still funny in this day and age, right?

Mariners Finished Sour First Half On Upbeat Note

There’s a lot to like about yesterday’s 4-0 shutout of the A’s to salvage a split of the 4-game series.  Dyson and Ruiz – representing the bottom of the order – got 5 hits, with a run and an RBI combined.  Nelson Cruz hit a 2-run bomb to give him 3 homers in the last week, and 17 on the season.  Robbie Cano hit a double and scored a run.  Felix Hernandez pitched 6 shutout innings, giving up 2 hits, walking 3, and striking out 8.  Vincent and Zych finished a SUPERB first half with a couple scoreless innings.  And, Edwin Diaz bounced back after taking the L on Saturday, striking out 2 in his inning of work.

The win brought the Mariners to 43-47, with 72 games remaining in the second half.  We’re currently 4th in the A.L. West, a game behind both Texas and Anaheim (17.5 games behind the insane Astros).  Yet, we’re only 4 games back in the Wild Card race, right in the middle of the pack (even the worst A.L. team is only 7.5 games back, so it’s not like anyone is really “out of it”).  Once we get through the All Star Break, there will be two and a half weeks of baseball before the July 31st Trade Deadline.  Will the Mariners be buyers, sellers, or nothing?  Well, we’ll see.

Starting this weekend, the M’s go on the road to play the White Sox, where we ALWAYS LOSE.  Then, we face the Astros, Yankees, and Red Sox; sissy-boy loser time is over.  Those are some serious opponents the Mariners are going to have to face to try to climb back over .500; if they continue to play like they have these last two weeks, I don’t see a lot of hope for this season (particularly when you consider the brutal stretch of road games in August).

The question we have to ask ourselves is:  can the Mariners do it as is?

I know Jerry Dipoto said he’s going to be listening to what’s out there offered in trades, but we have to assume for now that he won’t be able to get a deal done (otherwise the variables are just too vast; this blog post would be 50,000 words long).  I’m thinking, even if he does get a trade done, it won’t be for some huge piece.  We’re not going to see a Rent-An-Ace situation because A) I don’t believe we have the prospects to bring one to Seattle, B) I don’t think the M’s want to take on that kind of payroll, and C) I don’t think the M’s are in a Win-Now-At-All-Costs mode.  Now, whether they SHOULD be in that mode is another issue; I think they like the core they’ve got, and they think they can compete for years to come with some of the young talent they’ve brought in and developed.  At best, maybe the M’s bring in another under-the-radar reliever to help boost the bullpen, or maybe a solid, veteran, back-of-the-rotation starter to help shore up the rotation.

But, you know, like I said, for the sake of argument let’s hold off on speculating on that until it happens.  Let’s take a look at the roster as it is right now.

I thought Ryan Divish made a good point on the radio last week when he talked about how this pitching staff is holding this team back.  Pretty much, every game (save a dominant Paxton start here and there), you go into it expecting these starters to give up a minimum of 2-3 runs per outing.  That’s on top of whatever happens with the bullpen.  But, it’s like the hitters have to go into every game needing to score 4+ runs to win, and that’s got to be a mental drain after a while.

Yeah, sometimes these hitters look unstoppable; but sometimes these hitters look really bad, and it’s a rare instance where the entire pitching staff is capable of picking them up.

I think we’re all pretty happy with what Paxton has brought to the table this season.  Obviously, it wasn’t helpful that he missed damn near the entire month of May, and that was reflected in his sub-par June, but he’s looked a lot better in the last three starts, so hopefully he can keep that going the rest of the way.  Really, if this team is going to truly contend for a playoff spot, he’s going to NEED to keep this going the rest of the way.  He’s 7-3 with a 3.21 ERA at the break; just give me that (or maybe a little bit better) the rest of the way and I’ll be happy.

I think we’re all justifiably concerned with what we’ve seen from King Felix not just this season, but the last 2-3 years.  He still hasn’t quite morphed into that Pitch To Contact guy he probably needs to be to prolong the prime of his career.  No, the fastball isn’t ideal, but more than that he’s simply missing his spots.  Batters are less likely to chase his stuff out of the zone, and when he comes in for a strike it’s getting clobbered.  It’s taken him until July 9th – against a terrible-hitting A’s team – to finally throw an outing of all zeroes on the scoreboard.  These types of 6- or 7-inning, 0-run games used to be a much more regular occurrence; that one might be the only one we see all year and it wouldn’t shock me!  I just don’t know what to make of the King anymore.  It’s like he knows what he needs to become, but he’s fighting against it (fighting with himself).  At this point, it would be irresponsible to have high expectations for him the rest of the way.  I’m just hoping he can give us what Iwakuma gave us last year (which would be nice, since it looks like Iwakuma is going to be a longshot to return from injury after being shutdown in his rehab multiple times).

Up next, we’ve got Ariel Miranda; who expected him to be the second- or third-best starter in this rotation heading into the season?  At this point in his development, I just want him to continue doing what he’s been doing.  He’s not an Ace, but he’s been healthy and he’s been good more than not; just keep doing that!

In the 4-hole, there’s Andrew Moore, who is all of three games into his Major League career.  All three of his starts have been what you would call Quality Starts (at least 6 innings and 3 runs or less every time), but he’s also given up 5 home runs in those three games.  That is … less than ideal.  That also might just be his game.  He’s not what I would consider a phenom, even though he’s young and has shot through the minor league ranks; but he throws strikes, limits walks, and generally keeps the damage to a minimum.  How well will he continue to do once the league has a book on him and starts making their adjustments?  The Mariners can’t really afford to have a lot of growing pains out of him if they expect to make it to the post-season.

In the fifth starter spot, the Mariners have some options.  Sam Gaviglio has been the guy since being called up as an injury-replacement, but his last start was pretty bad, and really overall he’s Just A Guy.  Yovani Gallardo has been pretty fantastic in his long reliever role, which has a lot of people wondering if he’s destined to return to the rotation at some point.  Has he worked out – mechanically – what was so wrong with him early in games in his starts?  What if it’s just a matter of throwing more or less warm-up pitches before he goes out there?  Or what if we just don’t tell him which days he’s going to start, and spring it on him 30 minutes before gametime?

Overall, this is a far-from-intimidating rotation; really just an Ace with four #5 starters.  And, honestly, I don’t know if there would be much out there available in trade besides some other team’s #5 starter, so we is what we is.  And ultimately, that’s probably what’s going to keep us out of the post-season.

The bullpen has been pretty mediocre as well, but I don’t know if I would put as much of the blame on them.  There are plenty of bright spots, like Nick Vincent, Tony Zych, James Pazos, and Scrabble.  Steve Cishek looks like he’s rounding into form after coming back from injury.  Edwin Diaz has had some shaky outings, but looks like he’s getting a handle on things.  Right there, that’s six guys I’m more or less okay with.  Emilio Pagan hasn’t really gotten the chances I think he deserves, but he seems to be more steady than Dan Ayala-tavilla.  Then, there’s the revolving door of long relievers between Seattle and Tacoma who won’t make-or-break you.  I think that’s an okay unit!  Maybe even a good one if guys start getting on rolls!

Same thing can be said for the hitting and defense.  The outfield has out-performed even my wildest dreams.  Cruz and Cano are banged up but doing a pretty good job playing through it.  Valencia bounced back in a big way to play to the back of his baseball card.  Zunino had that insane month of June that might more-or-less salvage his season if he doesn’t backslide too far in July.  Seager is definitely taking a step back this season, but I have to believe he’s got a torrid streak in him coming up.  Overall, in the American League, the Mariners are in the Top 5 in runs scored, average, and on-base percentage.  They’ve taken a substantial step back in their power numbers from a year ago, but they’re also capable of making that up and getting into the upper half of the league by season’s end.

Ultimately, I think that’s what it’s going to take.  These Mariners need to have a power surge and carry this team offensively through the next two and a half months.  With that, an improved bullpen, and a carefully maintained starting rotation, this thing just might take us into the final weekend of the season with a chance.

That’s all I ask, Mariners.  Just give yourselves a chance in the final weekend.  Then, let the chips fall where they may.

Dan Altavilla Sure Looks Like The Second Coming Of Bobby Ayala

This one looked like a picture-perfect, textbook Mariners victory.  Ariel Miranda coughed up a couple of solo homers in the first couple innings before settling down to go 7 innings, giving up just those 2 runs, on 4 hits, 2 walks, and 3 strikeouts.  Nelson Cruz jacked a 2-run homer in the bottom of the first, Taylor Motter hit a solo homer out to left in the bottom of the second, and Ben Gamel added to the Mariners’ lead with a solo homer of his own to dead center in the bottom of the seventh.  All we needed was someone to bridge the game from Starter to Closer.

The tricky part was that Nick Vincent – our usual bridge guy – was unavailable, due to his back-to-back 1.1 inning performances the last two days.  Tony Zych was unavailable due to what we would later learn to be an illness.  I have to believe they wanted to save James Pazos unless it was an absolute emergency, considering he too had pitched the previous two days.

Which meant that the only right-handed relievers available for that eighth inning were Dan Altavilla, Steve Cishek, or Max Povse.  It would be pretty fucked up to make Povse’s Major League debut a tense eighth inning affair with a narrow lead, and Cishek is another guy who pitched the previous two days.

So, that left Altavilla, who was rested, but also fresh off of a 3-homer performance down in Texas on Saturday.

This really hasn’t been Altavilla’s season.  I don’t know what to make of his total and complete lack of command.  He got the late-season call up last year and was dominant.  But, this year, he’s been all over the place.  Sometimes, he looks unhittable, and zips through these innings no problem; other times, he falls apart and gets pounded into submission.  In his 25 appearances this year for the Mariners, he’s given up runs in 10 of them; that’s unacceptable.  He’s got the live fastball; he’s got the slider that has righties swinging for the dirt.  But, he leaves too many balls in the middle of the zone (when he’s not entirely missing the zone and walking a bunch of guys).

I didn’t see what he looked like on Saturday, but I watched him last night.  His first sin was walking the leadoff hitter, Ian Kinsler.  Kinsler was able to steal second on the perfect pitch (a slider low and away), but Altavilla really wasn’t doing a whole lot to keep him close to the bag at first.  He was able to strike out the next couple guys, but then did an ATROCIOUS job of keeping Kinsler close at second, who was allowed to have a huge lead to steal third base easily.  The fact that the pitch on that steal was another slider that got away from Zunino was also pure Altavilla.  I know you want those strikeout pitches buried in the ground, but he was spiking those fucking things five feet in front of home plate!

The subsequent solo homer to J.D. Martinez, though, that was pure Ayala.  Just a fat middle-middle meatball that he crushed to the opposite field seats.  I mean, I don’t understand how you go from absolutely OWNING Miguel Cabrera in the previous at-bat (utilizing your live fastball, brushing him off the plate, only to get him to watch your slider cover the outside corner for strike three) to being so careless with a guy like Martinez, who is another premiere slugger in this league.  It’s what made Bobby Ayala so maddening back in the day.  He had a plus fastball and a devastating splitter that could’ve laid waste to the American League.  But, all too often, as he fell off the left side of the mound, he’d leave those pitches up and out over the plate to get crushed.

Is it a concentration thing?  Or, are they just not able to control where their pitches go?  Either way, it’s something that needs to be fixed in a hurry, because I don’t really see a ton of other options in the minors with the kind of upside Altavilla demonstrates.  Who knows, maybe Max Povse will be the guy, but it’s way too early in his career to put that on him.

The Mariners squandered a 2-on, 1-out situation in the bottom of the eighth, with the heart of the order at the plate, and after that I went to bed.  Granted, they got good and Bucknor’d on that strikeout to Jarrod Dyson to end the inning, but all three of the guys who made outs in that inning (including the also-hot-hitting Nelson Cruz and Danny Valencia) were letting juicy sliders waft past them for strikes without even offering a swing.  One of the more frustrating half-innings I’ve seen in a while that didn’t involve the Mariners leaving someone on third base with less than two outs.

Edwin Diaz and Steve Cishek each worked scoreless innings to get us to the bottom of the tenth, where the Mariners scored the game-winning run on a Kyle Seager double (Tyler Smith pinch ran for Cruz and scored from second after a wild pitch).  I guess the joke is on me that the Mariners did all these cool things after I went to bed; I’ll somehow have to console myself with the good night’s sleep I enjoyed.

In the Kudos Department, Gamel had 3 more hits (including the aforementioned homer), Cruz was on base 4 times (with the aformentioned 2-run homer), Zunino had another hit to keep the good times rolling, Motter had a couple hits as Jean Segura works his way back in his rehab assignment (with a probable return tomorrow or Friday), and Seager had the heroics in extras.

I’d also like to circle back to Ariel Miranda, who got short shrift with all this Altavilla talk.  That’s an amazing bounce-back performance after his dud in Minnesota last week.  No hits after the third inning!  I would’ve complimented him on saving the bullpen in this one, but obviously what happened was outside of his control.

It does beg to wonder what things will look like tonight if the Mariners are in a position to win.  That’s three straight days with an appearance for Diaz and Cishek, so I have to believe those guys are sitting.  That most likely slots Vincent as our closer, with some combo of Zych and Pazos in the eighth.  Here’s to hoping Paxton has his mechanics working again, because we’re gonna need him.  Here’s also to hoping the offense gets on its horse so we don’t have to sweat one out in the late innings.

Reasonable Expectations For The 2016 Mariners

WORLD SERIES OR SUCK MY TITS BABY, WOOOOOO!!!

It’s been a whirlwind whatever amount of time since the new GM, Jerry Dipoto, took over, what with all the trades and signings and whatnot.  A TON of turnover up and down the roster, as well as up and down the organization.  So often, we get all caught up in the excitement of talking about new players, that we automatically associate New with Improved.  I mean, let’s face it, the advertising world has conditioned us to this effect.  Digiorno Pizza got a new pizza sauce recipe:  NEW & IMPROVED!  Except, while it was new, the flavor was a huge downgrade and their product tasted like shit, so they eventually switched back to the old recipe and the world rejoiced.

The truth of the matter is, sometimes New means Improved, and sometimes you end up with the PR nightmare of New Coke (or, that’s just what the Coca Cola company wants you to think, you sheeple).  The point is, change for the sake of change doesn’t mean this Mariners team is going to be any better than prior Mariners teams.

Then again, when you factor in how crummy this team was, could it really hurt to trim off the excess fat and replace it with literally anything else?

In many ways, particularly with the lineup and the outfield defense, we’re talking about Addition By Subtraction.  LoMo, Trumbo, and Zunino are great places to start.  Last year, LoMo flashed a quality glove at first base, but his production at the plate was pathetic; he’s gone, replaced by Adam Lind, who should be a steady presence at the plate, and good enough at the bag.  Trumbo was forced into a regular outfield starting role, because he was deemed marginally better than Dustin Ackley.  The outfield is probably the last place you want to see Trumbo, especially if that outfield is in Safeco Field.  Then, you gotta tack on his horrific start once he was traded over here, and regardless of how hot his season finished, he’s too streaky to be depended upon.  He’s also gone, replaced by let’s say Nori Aoki, a quality leadoff hitter and a significant upgrade in our corner defense.  Then, with Zunino, you’re talking about a guy ahead of his years defensively, but he was the blackest of black holes offensively.  He’s still in the organization, but he’s going to get his cuts down in Tacoma to hopefully build up some confidence and build up some better habits at the plate.  Replacing him with even a Replacement Level hitter like Iannetta should be a huge upgrade in our overall offense.

Gone are other young guys like Ackley and Miller, who were more Promising Hopefuls than Professionals You Could Rely On.  Gone are worthless veterans like Rickie Weeks, Justin Ruggiano, and Willie Bloomquist.  All of these moves are upgrades just by not having them on our team anymore!  This is truly a professional lineup that should get the job done day-in and day-out.  If we had this offense back in 2014, when our pitching was studly, we’d be talking about a World Series contender.

See, the problem with all this change – which I alluded to above – is that we as fans get seduced by all the improvements that we fail to recognize the weaknesses.  Or, we choose to see the weaknesses as potential strengths, if such and such breaks in our favor.  The fact of the matter is, the pitching is going to be a real issue in 2016, and our depth at the Major League level is already razor thin, so should injuries crop up (as they do for literally every single team), we may be in serious trouble.

The one problem with the lineup that I’ve neglected to this point is its reliance upon platoons.  The aforementioned Adam Lind, for instance, is GREAT against righties.  But, he’s absolutely awful against left-handed pitchers.  That presents a problem that the team is tentatively looking to rectify by platooning him with Jesus Montero (who is pretty solid against lefties, but struggles mightily against righties).  What happens if one of those guys gets injured?  What happens, particularly, if Lind gets injured (since there are more right-handed pitchers in the game than lefties)?  Then, we’re stuck with Montero as our everyday first baseman, and our production from that position at the plate plummets.

Same deal in the outfield.  We’ve got a Seth Smith/Franklin Gutierrez platoon.  Guti is a walking nightmare of maladies.  Last year, he was fortunate, as the team was in a position to give him the time he needed between games to recover.  But, he’s on a Major League deal; we can’t just send him to Tacoma or whatever, without putting him on the DL.  So, what happens if Seth Smith has a serious injury that keeps him out for a few months?  What was once a strength (our outfield defense) will now require the presence of Nelson Cruz to just get by!

You get the idea.  This thing goes on and on.  Even at the catcher position, we’ve got a righty and a lefty, which will only encourage the team to pursue a platoon sitch there too.  I know platoons are the wave of the future – and really, they make good sense, and should prolong some careers of guys with radical platoon splits – but when the shit hits the fan, you’re sort of left with your dick in your hand.

As for the pitching, I’ve gone over that repeatedly in recent weeks.  It’s scary.  After Felix, you need a lot of things to break right:

  • Will Taijuan Walker improve upon a decent – but far from great – rookie season?
  • Will Taijuan Walker manage to stay healthy again for a full season?
  • Will James Paxton manage to stay healthy for longer than a couple months?
  • Will Wade Miley’s numbers improve with the move to Safeco Field?
  • Will Wade Miley be good enough on the road to not be a total Joe Saunders?
  • Will Nathan Karns resemble the second coming of Erik Bedard in a good way (strong stuff, bulldog on the mound, stiffens with runners on); or will he resemble the second coming of Erik Bedard in a bad way (5 inning limit, arm problems, poor interviewee leading all of us to listen to the constant bitching of local Seattle media)?

Then, there’s the bullpen, which is a complete unknown.  After Joaquin Benoit (who has been a rock his entire career), it’s all cause for concern:

  • Who’s going to be the closer?
  • Will this team even employ a traditional closer?
  • Who’s our next-best reliever after Benoit?
  • Will Furbush continue his strong 2015, or revert to his inconsistent 2014?
  • Will Zych make good on his lights-out cup of coffee last season?
  • Will Evan Scribner continue to have issues with giving up home runs?
  • Will Jonathan Aro be the second coming of Evan Scribner, home run problem and all?
  • Will this apparent trend toward bullpen pitchers with lackluster velocity on their fastballs be the death of us all?

If I had to reach down into my gut, to see what it says about this team’s chances in 2016, I’d say the starting rotation is a little more promising than the bullpen.  I think the ‘pen has the chance to be one of the worst we’ve ever seen.  Mid-90s bad.  Bobby Ayala bad.  And the worst part?  I fear that this starting rotation will probably put a lot of strain on the bullpen by throwing short games.  Walker, Paxton, and Karns will all have their games where they can’t get past the 5th inning.  Miley is a total wild card, who could range from 2 innings to 8 innings.  That’s going to put a lot of stress on the King to get the job done in his starts.

I want to go off the deep end.  I want to jump to the head of the parade and pronounce this team as a true contender.  I want to like all these moves and champion the new GM as a guy who finally GETS it.  But, if I’m being honest, I think he’s just morphed this team into a different kind of sub-.500 team.  One that may hit better, score more runs.  But, in the end, a team that will blow a lot of leads late.  The question is:  how clutch are these hitters?  It’s an impossible metric to track, of course.  But, if this team is going to somehow hang in there and fight for a Wild Card spot, it’s going to have to somehow manufacture a crazy win/loss record in 1-run games and in walk-off/extra innings games.

Which is just another way of saying, I’ll have to see it to believe it.  I’ll have to see this team play well before I believe this team will continue to play well.

Mariners Tidbit 26: Happy Felix Day Indeed!

I’ve been to some big/odd/random professional baseball games in my day.  My very first game ever was in 1996 against the California Angels, on April 15th.  The Mariners were down 9-1 in the top of the fourth inning and ended up coming back to win 11-10; at the time, it was the greatest Mariners comeback in franchise history.  A-Rod hit a homer out of the 9-hole, Norm Charlton pitched 2 innings to get the win.  It was an amazing game, just me and my dad (I think, I was 15 at the time, so who knows how good my memory is).

The most important game I ever went to was on September 23, 1997, against the Anaheim Angels.  The Mariners jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the bottom of the first thanks to an A-Rod single and a Jay Buhner 3-run bomb.  Randy Johnson was on the mound and would give up two more runs – three in total – over 8 innings.  In the ninth, Heathcliff Slocumb gave up a leadoff single as the Mariners clung to their 4-3 lead, then got a fly ball out and struck out the next two guys to lock down the save.  What made this game different is that it was the game that officially locked the Mariners in as A.L. West Champions.  Randy’s record went to 19-4 and we were going back to the playoffs for the second time (in franchise history) in three years.

In Cheney Stadium, in early August, 1998, I saw the first start for Freddy Garcia in a Rainiers uniform.  I was somehow graced with seats right behind the catcher thanks to a family member, and we were amazed at the kid as he spun 7 innings of 1-run gold.  The trading of Randy Johnson was universally panned (as it should have been), but no one could deny the Mariners got some talented prospects in return.

I also saw Ken Cloude’s first start in a Mariners uniform (August 9, 1997).  Now, you may be wondering why this is such a big deal; well, I’ll tell you.  It was a 5-2 defeat to James Baldwin and the Chicago White Sox, dropping the Mariners to merely 15-games over .500 (GOD, those were the days).  Ken Cloude was a prospect from the minors we were all hoping would settle down the back-end of the rotation (when guys like Bob Wolcott, Scott Sanders, and Dennis Martinez were failing terribly).  In the end, Cloude didn’t add up to much, and his Major League career was very short lived.

But, on August 9, 1997, he got the closest I’ve ever seen to a perfect game/no hitter (IN PERSON) in my entire life.  Ever since I first got into baseball – and specifically getting into keeping score while at a baseball game – it’s been my dream to one day keep score of a no hitter by a Mariners pitcher.  Oddly enough, the closest I’ve ever gotten in person was at a Rainiers game, as Derek Lowe (yeah, THAT Derek Lowe) pitched a no hitter into the 8th inning (but that’s neither here nor there).  Cloude ended up perfect through 5 innings (with the Mariners clinging to a 1-0 lead at the time).  He gave up a walk in the 6th, but still had a no hitter going into the 7th.  It’s unfortunate the Mariners couldn’t play add-on in this situation, as he gave up a single/walk/single to lead off the 7th.  Paul Spoljaric came in and gave up all three of Cloude’s runs that he inherited.  We went on to pull to within 3-2, but for some reason Lou left Bobby Ayala in there for 2.1 innings.  He was actually solid until the 9th, when he gave up a 2-run homer to seal it.

So, Ken Cloude is my high-water mark of pitching perfection.  Obviously, I’ve seen better-pitched games (any number of Randy Johnson and Felix Hernandez games will attest to that).  But, no one is touching Cloude for the 18 outs he got before giving up a hit.

Last night, I thought Felix might’ve had a shot.  To be fair, I ALWAYS think Felix has a shot at perfection, because Felix is perfect in every way.  But, as soon as he struck out the side in the top of the first without much fuss, I knew we were on to something.  He was perfect through 14 batters, until Trevor Plouffe knocked a solid single into right field.  So, the dream continues.  No perfect scorecard for me, but I’ll keep trying.

Doesn’t mean the game wasn’t a rousing success!  How about this:  both pitchers went the distance!  When was the last time we’ve seen that?  Phil Hughes was solid, but obviously not good enough as he gave up a monster bomb to Nelson Cruz in the second, and the first extra base hit of the year to LoMo in the form of a solo homer in the fifth.  The first homer would be all Felix needed, as he got the 9-inning shutout.  He was dynamic.  We’ve seen stuff like this from him before, but it seems to be so rare when he’s this economical.  He ended up with 102 pitches total.

A sight for sore eyes, I’ll say that much.  The day started out on kind of a bummer with Iwakuma going on the DL.  We’ll have to wait to see if he’s able to turn his career around; for the record, I STRONGLY doubt he’s had this issue with his trap muscle dating back to late last season.  But, if he did, and this is what’s caused the majority of his problems, then I say Get Well Soon.

In the meantime, I’m going to be day-dreaming of this Felix start for the rest of the weekend.

Sean Barber & Hector Noesi Are Really Shitty At Their Jobs

After last night’s performance behind the plate, Sean Barber should not have a job.  He is not qualified to be a baseball umpire, Major Leagues or otherwise.  Either he has vision impairment, or he doesn’t know the rules, but either way he’s a blight and an embarrassment to the game and Major League Baseball needs to act swiftly in removing this menace before the sport itself is rendered as irrelevant as professional wrestling.

I know there are a million different possible outcomes, but in that fifth inning, Roenis Elias was deprived of a third out.  Shortly thereafter, one run scored and another was mere inches from tying the ballgame.  Of course, manager error would later see the game tied anyway, but you’d like to think that if things shook out as they should have, we would have gotten to the 9th inning with a chance to save this victory in regulation.

Roenis Elias was deprived of that final out – a strikeout, as it should have been called – because Sean Barber is a limp-dicked ninny who called a ball instead because he’s a fucking asshole and I hope he suffers severely.

Sean Barber was 1/3 of the reason why we lost this game.  He was just as important as the players themselves in determining this outcome.  It’s not good for the game, and today he deserves to be unemployed.

Lloyd McClendon is another 1/3 of the reason why we lost this game, but obviously I’m not going to call for his head just yet.  He put Tom Wilhelmsen in there, in a 1-run game, in the 8th inning, even though Danny Farquhar was available.  You see, Lloyd McClendon apparently has more confidence in Tom Wilhelmsen’s abilities, because he’s like every other stupid Neanderthal Baseball Guy out there who equates “veteran experience” with talent.  Any fucking moron sitting on his couch yelling at the TV last night while clipping his toenails can see that Danny Farquhar is the better pitcher.  Except for the one guy who has the power to control that part of the outcome of the game.

It shouldn’t take McClendon long to come to grips with reality, as Wilhelmsen will eventually pitch himself out of a job because he’s so shitty, but that’s not the point.  It never should have gotten to this point in the first place.  This is a game we SHOULD have won – in spite of Sean Barber’s inept bumbling behind the plate – but we didn’t win it because management foolishly chose the wrong right-hander to be their 8th inning set-up guy.

THERE’S A FUCKING REASON WHY TOM WILHELMSEN LOST HIS CLOSER JOB IN THE FIRST FUCKING PLACE!  He sucks!  God damn it!

We gave away a game because our manager isn’t all that bright.  You’re probably saying, “It’s just one game, calm down!”  Yeah, well, it’s ALWAYS just one game.  But, those games add up.  How many times do we have to lose before guys like Tom Wilhelmsen and Hector Noesi are out on the streets?

While Tom Wilhelmsen has a trade to fall back on – bartending – I worry about what will become of Hector Noesi once he’s finished with baseball.  If Tom’s Bar hired Noesi to be a second bartender, then surely the White Russians would have limes and cherries floating in them, Captain & Cokes would be savagely mis-poured with the inferior Sailor Jerry, and the Manhattans would be nothing but tomato juice and Jagermeister.

I just can’t help but think that Hector Noesi – no matter what he does – is equally as terrible as he is throwing a baseball.  Of course, he comprises the remaining 1/3 of the reason why we lost last night, but you can’t really blame Noesi.  He’s not the one who decided to keep himself on the roster simply because he was out of options and the organization was afraid to lose such a “talented arm”.  The fact of the matter is, this falls on Jack Zduriencik.  A) for trading to bring him into this organization in the first place, and B) for keeping him around even though he’s WORTHLESS.  He is, quite literally, the worst pitcher I’ve ever seen, and I’m a Mariners fan!  I’ve lived through the Bobby Ayala days.  The Scott Sanders days.  And yes, the Jeff Weaver & Horacio Ramirez days.  Hector Noesi out-craps them all, in spectacular fashion I might add.

Hector Noesi needs to be off this team immediately.  See if you can trade him to the A’s and convince them to keep him on their 25-man roster.  At this point, you should be less concerned with missing out on watching his talented arm reach its potential and see him for what he really is:  a ticking timebomb to be unleashed on the rest of the league.  SOMEONE will pick him up.  SOMEONE will give him a chance.  And, when that happens, the Mariners will have done their part to improve their lot in life.  For, just by giving Noesi away to another team, they will have actively made that team just a LITTLE bit worse.  And that’s all you can really hope for, at this point.  It’s not about the possible value-added, it’s about the definite value detracted from another team.

That might sound like a lose-lose proposition, but you’re only a loser if you gainfully employ Hector Noesi (or Sean Barber, for that matter; I’m looking at you Major League Baseball).

The Last Great Mariners Rebuild

The Seattle Mariners played their first season in 1977.  From 1977 through 1994, the Mariners were varying degrees of terrible.  Sometimes Two times, “terrible” came with a winning record (1991 & 1993), but no post-season appearance.  Then, in 1995, the Mariners broke on through with an AL West title and a legend was made.  People still talk about those 1995 Mariners in a reverential tone and for good reason.  Baseball fans in the northwest starving for the sweet taste of success finally had something to hang their hats on.

From 1995 through 2003, the Mariners were varying degrees of successful.  Those nine seasons saw the Mariners make the playoffs four times, winning three division titles.  Seven of those nine seasons saw the Mariners with winning records.  Two insanely good A’s teams prevented two 93-win Mariners teams from going to the playoffs four straight years from 2000-2003.  These were the good times.  Everything abruptly fell apart in 2004 and the team was blown up.

From 2004 through present day, the Mariners have returned to their varying degrees of terrible.  In the nine full seasons from 2004-2012, the Mariners have had a winning record twice.  They’ve finished last in the AL West seven times.  It’s been one rebuild after another, with no end in sight.  Just a continuation of the cycle of losing, ad infinitum.

Of course, if the Mariners could do it once, SURELY the Mariners can do it again.  It took until their 19th year of existence before the Mariners made the playoffs; if it feels hopeless now, just imagine what it must have felt like for Mariners fans in the early 1990s.  They say something about learning from history or being doomed to repeat it, but what if in this case we take a look at something that went RIGHT for the Mariners in their history and seeing if we can repeat THAT?

As fans, we have to believe that a turnaround is right around the corner.  I know I’m on here quite a bit, bitching about how nothing is ever going to get any better (because why would we think that?  What is trending well enough for us to deserve the luxury of hope?), but if I truly felt that way, why would I continue to follow this team?  I’m not a baseball fan, per se; I’m a Mariners fan.  I don’t sit around watching random baseball games in my spare time; I watch Mariners games.  If the Mariners moved to Oklahoma City, I would stop watching baseball, the same as I have stopped watching professional basketball.  If the Mariners had never existed, I never would have started watching baseball in the first place (you get the idea).  So, since it’s been established that I’m a Mariners fan, it should also be established that yes, I do hope they’re able to turn things around sooner rather than later.  I’m not 100% cynical.  I’m just beaten down and broken, but all that can change if a few things fucking broke right for the Mariners for once!

The one thing Jackie Z has done right in his tenure as general manager is:  he’s re-stocked the farm system with an abundance of talented prospects.  Of course, none of that talent (save Kyle Seager and a couple bullpen arms) has panned out at the Major League level, but there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

There is no “right way” to rebuild.  It’s a combination of youth and veterans.  It’s a combination of draft picks, trades, and free agent signings.  It’s a combination of luck, strategy, and luck again.  In an ideal world, your Major League roster would be riddled with your own draft picks still playing on rookie deals.  Every trade you made would work out splendidly for you and would tank for your trade partner.  Every free agent signing would be a “buy-low” situation where they immediately turned their careers around.

Or, if you like concrete examples:  every draft pick would be Ken Griffey Jr., every trade would net you Jay Buhner in return, and every free agent would be Bret Boone circa 2000/2001.

So, in an attempt to try and forget the miseries of our present-day situation, I’d like to go back to a simpler time where a team comprised of a mix of youth and veterans shocked the world by winning their very first division title in the most dramatic of fashions.  How was THAT team built?  What can we learn from how that team did what it did?  And how did that team evolve into the greatest regular season team in baseball history?

***

1995 Seattle Mariners

Rebuilds don’t happen overnight.  A lot of these guys were brought into the fold well before everything magically came together in 1995.  I’m not going to get into every single player, but I’ll go over the highlights.

Dan Wilson (catcher) was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in 1990 in the first round.  That was the same year Lou Pinella signed on to manage those very same Reds.  That was also the same year the Reds won the World Series and wrote Lou’s ticket as an elite baseball manager for the next couple decades.  Sweet Lou hitched his wagon to the Seattle Mariners in 1993 with the task of turning around the worst franchise in baseball.  Dan Wilson got his first taste of the majors in a September cup of coffee in 1992.  Wilson got some more playing time in 1993, but was then traded along with Bobby Ayala to be reunited with Pinella before the 1994 season.  Wilson played considerably in ’94, earned the starting job in ’95, and never looked back.

Tino Martinez (first base) was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in 1988 in the first round.  He received his cup of coffee in 1990 and didn’t play a whole lot in the Majors through 1991.  Martinez was mediocre (but played a lot more) from 1992-1994, then finally had his breakout season in 1995 (.293/.369/.551).

Joey Cora (second base) was drafted by the San Diego Padres in 1985 in the first round.  Cora didn’t start earning regular playing time until after he’d been traded to the White Sox in 1991.  His numbers weren’t particularly impressive, but he was improving as he played regularly through the 1994 season.  Then, in April of 1995, Cora signed as a free agent with the Mariners.  In spite of what we choose to remember about Little Joey Cora, I think many of us forget just how productive he was as a Mariner.  From 1995 through August of 1998, Cora had a slash line of .293/.355/.406.  He was traded at the August trade deadline in 1998, then abruptly retired to go into coaching after the end of the season.

Mike Blowers (third base) was originally drafted by the Seattle Mariners in 1984 but did not sign.  He would go on to be drafted three more times before he finally signed with the Montreal Expos in 1986.  He would be traded to the Yankees in August of 1989, then traded to the Mariners in May of 1991.  Blowers originally broke into the Majors with the Yankees in 1989, but he wouldn’t become a starter in the Majors until 1993 with the Mariners.  He would go on to be traded by the Mariners after that historic 1995 season, but would later come back on one-year free agent deals in 1997 and again in 1999 before retiring after that 1999 season.

Ken Griffey Jr. (center field) was originally drafted by the Seattle Mariners with the #1 overall pick in the 1987 draft.  He would become a starter in the 1989 season and would not look back.  In February of 2000, the Mariners would trade him to the Reds.  They brought him back as a free agent in February of 2009 before he retired in June of 2010.

Jay Buhner (right field) was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in January of 1984.  In December of that very same year, Buhner was traded to the Yankees.  Buhner got his cup of coffee with the Yankees in September of 1987, played a bit more in 1988, then was traded at that year’s deadline to the Seattle Mariners for Ken Phelps.  Buhner became an everyday player in 1991 and was a core piece of the Mariners’ offense for the next decade.

Edgar Martinez (designated hitter) signed as an amateur free agent with the Seattle Mariners in December of 1982.  He didn’t break into the Majors until 1987 and didn’t become an everyday player until 1990.  He would go on to become the greatest designated hitter in baseball history.

Randy Johnson (starting pitcher) was drafted by the Montreal Expos in 1985 in the second round.  The Big Unit got his cup of coffee in September of 1988, making four starts.  He was traded in May of 1989 to the Seattle Mariners for Mark Langston.  He became an immediate starter for the Mariners and progressively got better until he broke out in 1993, coming in second in the AL Cy Young race.  Johnson would go on to win that award in 1995, leading the Mariners to their best playoff finish in franchise history.  He would go on to be dealt to the Astros at the 1998 trade deadline and never return.

I’ll spare you Tim Belcher‘s long history for the most part:  he was drafted in 1984 and kicked around with four different teams before he signed with the Reds in May of 1995, where he was promptly traded to the Mariners two weeks later without ever throwing a pitch for the Reds that season.  Belcher made 28 starts for the Mariners that season, going 10-12.  He would not be retained by the Mariners beyond 1995.

Chris Bosio (starting pitcher) was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in 1982 in the second round.  He had a good career with the Brewers over 7 seasons, then signed with the Seattle Mariners as a free agent in December of 1992.  In 1993, Bosio pitched the second-ever Mariners no-hitter.  In 1995, Bosio started 31 games and went 10-8.  He hung around to start the 1996 season, struggled mightily, and retired at season’s end.

The Mariners traded for Andy Benes from the San Diego Padres at the July deadline in 1995.  He would go on to make 12 starts down the stretch, going 7-2.  He would sign a free agent deal with St. Louis before the 1996 season and would never be heard from again.

The bullpen was a piece of work, anchored by Bobby Ayala (came over in the Dan Wilson trade in 1993), who appeared in 63 games.  Norm Charlton was originally traded by the Reds to the Mariners prior to the 1993 season, but he would be injured, lose all of the 1994 season to injury, and eventually sign with the Phillies in 1995.  He was released by the Phillies in July of 1995 and signed on with the Mariners four days later.  Jeff Nelson was originally drafted by the Dodgers in 1984, but then was drafted by the Mariners from the Dodgers in something called a “minor league draft” in 1986.  He became a regular reliever in 1992 and was consistently productive thereafter.

That, more or less, is the 1995 Mariners.  Obviously, there were lots of bench players and fill-ins (Rich Amaral & Alex Diaz filling in admirably for an injured Junior), and a lot of players who were tried out as starters in the rotation, but the players I listed comprised the core.  Seven guys brought over in trade, three free agents, and four guys who were drafted by the Mariners (well, three guys and Edgar, who was an amateur free agent and played his entire career under the same organization).

1996 Seattle Mariners

With the base already in place, I shouldn’t have to keep re-hashing the core group that remains.  The first big misstep in what would become a long line of soul-crushing missteps by the organization came on December 7, 1995, when the Mariners traded Tino Martinez and Jeff Nelson to the New York Yankees.  In return, they received a starting third baseman in Russ Davis, and a starting pitcher in Sterling Hitchcock.

Davis was the most error-prone third baseman I’ve ever seen.  He was supposed to make up for that with his bat, but in the four years he wore a Mariners uniform, he never surpassed 21 homers in a season, with a Mariners career slash line of .256/.309/.446.  Tino Martinez would go on to have an outstanding career with the Yankees, hitting 175 homers and 180 doubles over the next six seasons.  Jeff Nelson would go on to be a fabulous bullpen presence for the Yankees over the next five seasons, before returning as a free agent to the Mariners prior to the 2001 season.  Sterling Hitchcock, meanwhile, lasted one season with the Mariners (1996) where he sucked.  Then, he was traded to the Padres for Scott Sanders, who also sucked.  Sanders lasted one season with the Mariners (1997) before being traded for two guys who did nothing.  Suffice it to say, the Mariners lost the SHIT out of this trade.

All was not totally lost for this 1996 team, though.  The Mariners signed Paul Sorrento (first base) as a free agent before the season started.  Sorrento was an okay veteran who had played in 7 regular seasons with two different teams before coming to the Kingdome where he would mash the hell out of the ball for the 1996 and 1997 seasons.  We let him go after 1997 and he signed with Tampa Bay where he would finish out his career.

Alex Rodriguez (short stop) was drafted with the #1 overall pick by the Seattle Mariners in 1993.  He got his cup of coffee in 1994, and mostly rode the pine in 1995 before earning the everyday short stop job in 1996.  He would put up MVP-type numbers in this season, yet be denied his rightful honor thanks to the idiots who voted for the MVP award that season (they picked Juan Gonzalez of the Rangers who had a markedly inferior season).  A-Rod would be a Mariners favorite from 1996 through the 2000 season before taking the money and running to the Rangers in 2001.

Rich Amaral (left field) was signed as a free agent before the 1991 season before ever playing a game in the Majors.  Amaral earned a lot of playing time in 1995 after Griffey went down with injury that cost him a majority of the season.  As a reward for doing such a good job, Amaral earned the left field job in 1996.  He would go on to stick around (mostly as a bench player) through the 1998 season before signing as a free agent with the Orioles and ending his career in Baltimore.

So, the ’96 lineup had new additions Sorrento & Davis with holdovers in Amaral, A-Rod, Wilson, Cora, Griffey, Buhner, and Edgar.  Pretty fucking good … until you get to the pitching staff …

Hitchcock became the de facto pitching ace for this team after Randy Johnson went down in May with his back injury.  He would return in August as a reliever and never started a game for the Mariners the rest of the season.

Bob Wolcott was a Mariners draft pick from 1992 in the second round.  He made his first starts in the Majors in 1995 in August and earned himself a playoff roster spot that netted him the start in Game 1 of the ALCS (as the rotation had been spent just trying to get past the Yankees in five games of the ALDS).  From that ALCS victory, Wolcott earned himself a rotation spot in 1996.  He mostly underwhelmed.  He played one more season in Seattle (1997) and was lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the expansion draft of 1997.

Jamie Moyer was drafted back in 1984 by the Chicago Cubs.  He had played in 10 Major League seasons with five different teams (Cubs, Rangers, Cardinals, Orioles, Red Sox) before he was traded by the Red Sox to the Mariners at the 1996 deadline.  Moyer would go on to play 11 years with the Mariners and end up one of the best pitchers in team history.

Terry Mulholland, on the other hand, would NOT go down as one of the best pitchers in team history.  The 1996 Mariners were enjoying unprecedented offensive success, but injuries had throttled their pitching staff.  Mulholland, like Moyer, was a veteran of a million other teams before he was traded to the Mariners at the 1996 deadline.  He came in and did okay, but it would prove to be a fruitless endeavor as the Mariners – while above .500 – failed to make the playoffs.  Mulholland would never pitch for the Mariners beyond this season.

The primary bullpen addition (with Charlton and Ayala leading the way for the most part) was Michael Jackson.  He was another longtime vet who the Mariners brought in on a 1-year deal prior to the 1996 season.  He had pitched with the Mariners early in the 90s and was a quality arm in the bullpen who locked down the 8th inning and didn’t get nearly enough save opportunities.

1997 Seattle Mariners

The batting lineup was almost exactly the same in 1997.  Rich Amaral even enjoyed his usual 89 games of stellar fill-in duty.  The only major change in this year was the tantalizing tease that was Jose Cruz Jr.  He was drafted by the Mariners with the #3 overall pick in the 1995 draft and was brought up by the Mariners in 1997 to start in left field effective May 31st.  In his 49 games, Cruz had 12 homers and 12 doubles.  Along with Griffey and A-Rod, he was looking like another can’t-miss first round prospect who would go on to have a Hall of Fame type career.

Of course, this Mariners team couldn’t afford to live with their Pie in the Sky dreams of future glory; they had to strike NOW, while the iron was hot!  This was a good baseball team, with another massively impressive offense, and little in the way of pitching (especially bullpen pitching).

So, at the trade deadline, the Mariners made the two trades that will forever be a black mark on this organization.  On the same day, the Mariners sent Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek (two minor leaguers with incredible promise) to the Boston Red Sox for Heathcliff Slocumb.  Slocumb was immediately inserted into the closer’s role because Norm Charlton had officially hit the wall in his career.  The other trade was one Jose Cruz Jr., who was sent to the Toronto Blue Jays for Mike Timlin and Paul Spoljaric.  Both of those two were inserted into the regular bullpen rotation.  Timlin was okay, Spoljaric was a lefty and not that good.  This mishmash of a bullpen, with a surprising resurgence by Bobby Ayala, managed to get the job done enough to get the Mariners into the playoffs, but it was a hefty price to pay that ultimately never did pay off in a World Series Championship as intended.

Lost in the shuffle of the 1997 season was actually one of the better trades in Mariners history.  In October of 1996, the Mariners traded a bunch of scrubs to the Expos for Jeff Fassero.  He fit in quite nicely with our rotation stalwarts of Randy Johnson (back and better than ever from his injury-plagued 1996 season) and Jamie Moyer.  Fassero rounded out our Big Three for the 1997 & 1998 seasons before falling off the cliff in 1999 and being traded away to the Rangers.

The Mariners plugged in some draft picks (Lowe, pre-trade, and Ken Cloude) as well as some veterans (Dennis Martinez, signed as a free agent; and Omar Olivares, who was brought over when the team dealt Scott Sanders to the Tigers) into the back-end of their rotation, but no one really stuck.  For this season or long-term.

1998 Seattle Mariners

The primary addition to the starting lineup was David Segui (first base) who was signed as a free agent.  The team had let Paul Sorrento walk and needed some kind of production.  Segui was a solid, if unspectacular contributor who had a nice year and a half with the Mariners before being traded at the 1999 deadline.

The 1998 Mariners continued their revolving door at left field, with no one of import taking the bull by the horns.

The ’98 Mariners had what amounted to a stable starting rotation, shock of shocks.  After the Big Three, Ken Cloude was granted one of the final two spots.  He was drafted by the Mariners in the sixth round in 1993 and made his first Major League start in 1997.  He would start 30 games in 1998, but his ERA would be over 6 and he would go only 8-10.  Cloude was primarily a bullpen pitcher, with a few spot starts here and there in 1999, then his career would be over.

Grabbing the final rotation spot was veteran Bill Swift.  Swifty was drafted by the Mariners in the first round in 1984, but was traded away in 1991 and bounced around for a while before signing as a free agent in February of 1998.  He would go 11-9 with a 5.85 ERA in 1998 and then he would retire.

The 1998 Mariners were the first team of this era to end the season with a losing record.  I’ll be damned if I know how that’s possible with an offense this stacked, but let’s go ahead and start with Randy Johnson.  This was a contract year for him and he was pretty much blowing it.  He was 9-10 with a 4.33 ERA in his 23 starts before the trade deadline.  The Mariners as an organization had balked at the notion of re-signing him to a long-term extension, citing the 1996 season and his back injury as a reason to be cautious.  Tensions grew from there and by the trade deadline, the team knew it wasn’t going to be able to retain him beyond the season.  They felt they had to trade him to get some kind of value back in return.  So, he was dealt to the Astros (where he proceeded to dominate the shit out of the National League with a 10-1 record and a sub-2 ERA) for prospects.

One could also blame the 1998 misfortunes on the bullpen.  They managed only 31 saves as a unit, with Bobby Ayala returning to his absolute nadir (a 1-10 record with a 7.29 ERA and more blown saves – 9 – than regular saves – 8).  Ayala would be traded prior to the 1999 season and we would never have to see his punk-ass again.  Mike Timlin did an admirable job stepping up and doing what he could, but everyone else from Spoljaric to Slocumb to Bob Wells on down all stunk the joint up.  Our five primary bullpen guys went a combined 12-26; take from that what you will.  At least no more major trades were made that could blow up in our faces later.

1999 Seattle Mariners

A bit of a lineup shake-up here, with Joey Cora moving on and being replaced by David Bell (second base) who we received for Cora in a 1998 trade deadline deal with the Indians.  Bell would never wow you with his bat, but he was a solid infield glove man who would go on in subsequent seasons to lock down third base (and give us all a break from Russ Davis’ stone hands).

Of course, in 1999, Davis was still around.  As was Wilson, Segui, A-Rod, Griffey, Buhner, and Martinez.  The left field circus continued with Brian Hunter, who we received in trade from the Tigers for a couple of nobodies.  Hunter stunk at the plate, but stole 44 bases, so whatever.

The real shakedown happened, of course, with the pitching staff.  Freddy Garcia and John Halama, who we received in the Randy Johnson Trade, made their debuts with the organization in 1999.  Garcia, in fact, made his Major League debut with the Mariners.  Garcia was still a little raw as a rookie, but he was rock solid and would quickly go on to be this team’s ace.  Halama was another soft-tossing lefty in the Jamie Moyer mold.  He was okay in 1999 and would go on to be no better than okay going forward.

As I mentioned before, Jeff Fassero fell apart this season and was dealt away.  Gil Meche rounded out the rotation.  He was drafted in the first round in 1996 and immediately made an impression upon his first start that July.  Yes, it was a loss, and yes, his numbers weren’t very good.  But, he showed a live fastball, a wicked curve, and a whole lotta promise.  People were much higher on Meche than they were on Garcia, but either way, this looked like the beginning of a long run of quality starting baseball from our rotation.

The bullpen was re-tooled prior to the 1999 season, with Jose Mesa being signed on as the closer.  He would play two seasons in Seattle and would not be missed when he left.  Jose Paniagua was signed off of waivers in 1998, where he played in 18 games for the Mariners.  He got the bulk of the 8th inning work in 1999 and was a solid, live-arm guy who would never mature into a closer.

These Mariners also suffered through a sub-.500 season, with growing pains in the rotation (Meche, Halama, and Garcia all in their first full seasons) and Fassero completely losing it.  There just wasn’t enough pitching to hold together this team with all its hitting prowess.

2000 Seattle Mariners

While the first great Mariners rebuild came to fruition in the 1995 season, the last great Mariners rebuild reached its apex in 2000 and 2001.

The core players from that 1995 team that remained on the 2000 Mariners were:  Dan Wilson (catcher), Jay Buhner (right field), and Edgar Martinez (designated hitter).  Yes, A-Rod was on that ’95 team, but he was not a regular.  There’s been quite a bit of turnover leading us up to what would be the zenith for this franchise in 2000 and 2001.

John Olerud was a longtime veteran who signed prior to the 2000 season to replace David Segui (who replaced Paul Sorrento, who replaced Tino Martinez).  Olerud finished his career as a starter in a Mariners uniform, seeing his release in the middle of the 2004 crater of a season.  Olerud would finish his career as a part-time player with the Yankees and Red Sox.

Mark McLemore was another longtime veteran who signed prior to the 2000 season to be a utility player.  He found a home as a second baseman and caught fire as a super utility player in 2001, bouncing around from left field to third base to wherever else they needed him to play to give others days off.  McLemore stuck around through the 2003 season before leaving in free agency to play one final year in Oakland before retiring.

Mike Cameron (center field) was originally drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the 1991 draft.  He played in all or parts of four seasons with the White Sox before being traded to the Cincinnati Reds in November of 1998 for Paul Konerko.  He started for one season with the Reds before Ken Griffey Jr. demanded to be traded to Cincinnati and only Cincinnati after the 1999 season.  In return, the Mariners received Cameron (because they no longer needed a center fielder, thanks to Griffey being there), Brett Tomko, and two other guys.  Or, I guess you could say the Mariners received Cameron and three other guys, but that’s neither here nor there.

Mariners fans were a little salty about the whole Griffey thing, especially coming on the heels of the whole Randy Johnson thing (which, if you believe certain reports, is what caused Griffey to sour on the organization in the first place, since the Mariners were not taking care of the veterans who brought them all this success).  Mike Cameron helped fans get over Griffey by being a wizard in the field and not a total disaster at the plate.  He was actually quite productive in his four years with the Mariners.  Cameron left for greener pastures after the 2003 season, signing as a free agent with the Mets, but he will always be accepted as a Mariner for Life thanks to his efforts in Seattle.

The starting rotation featued a combination of six guys.  Aaron Sele signed as a free agent before the season and won 17 games.  Paul Abbott originally signed as a free agent with the Mariners before the 1997 season.  He was primarily a reliever with some spot-start duties.  In 2000, he was forced into action and produced admirably.  John Halama and Freddy Garcia (again, from the Randy Johnson trade) got their share of starts.  Jamie Moyer, the longest-tenured holdover from that trade in 1996, had an injury-plagued 2000 season.  And Gil Meche started off the season in the rotation before leaving with a dead arm in early July.  He would not pitch again in the Majors until the 2003 season.

Kaz Sasaki signed as a free agent from Japan prior to the season, immediately started closing, and won the Rookie of the Year award.  He was the first of back-to-back Japanese Rookies of the Year the Mariners would sign.  Sasaki played in four seasons, went to 2 All Star Games, saved 129 games (the franchise leader), and totally fell apart in 2003.  He would retire after that season and never played in the Majors again.

Jose Mesa and Jose Paniagua stuck on as middle relievers, but the biggest addition (arguably) was Arthur Rhodes, who signed as a free agent before the season.  In his initial tenure with the Mariners, across four seasons, he appeared in 276 games (never fewer than 66 appearances in a season) and had a 3.07 ERA.  He was the left-handed reliever we’d been looking for since 1995 and aside from a couple of nasty innings in the 2000 and 2001 American League Championship Series’ against the Yankees, he was arguably the best reliever this team has ever seen.

With that kind of turnover, the Mariners found the mysterious answer to the equation of how to make the playoffs.  The core had dwindled from what it was in 1995, but with pieces like Olerud, Cameron, Garcia, Rhodes, Moyer, and Sasaki, they had managed to climb that mountain once again.

2001 Seattle Mariners

In 2001, it would only get better.  116 wins, unheard of in the modern era.  There wasn’t a tremendous amount of turnover, but there were two very big names involved that would change the organization forever.

First, there was A-Rod accepting a 10-year, $252 million deal with the Texas Rangers.  He would go on to use steroids and become the most hated former Mariner the world has ever known.  In his place, the team started Carlos Guillen at short stop, who was another gem in what was a surprisingly decent trade for Randy Johnson.  How amazing is it that every piece we got back for Randy in 1998 ended up starting for the Mariners by 2001?  I would argue it’s pretty unheard of.

The other big move was signing Ichiro from Japan and making him our everyday right fielder.  By this point in his career, Jay Buhner was simply a part-time player and he graciously gave way to the incoming Ichiro, who set the world on fire in his rookie season, winning the ROY as well as the MVP award.

A little more under the radar was the Bret Boone signing.  We got him for pennies on the dollar and made him our second baseman.  In return, we got a near-MVP season out of him, and a stud second baseman through 2003 before starting his inevitable decline in 2004 and being traded away in the middle of the 2005 season.

Dan Wilson and Edgar Martinez were the only two holdovers from that 1995 team now, with David Bell continuing to man third base, and Mark McLemore platooning with Bell at third and with Al Martin in left field.  Al Martin was supposed to be our big deadline deal in July of 2000 to help bolster our outfield hitting.  He did no such thing and was a total bust.

Freddy Garcia finally made that next step as the ace of the staff in 2001.  Aaron Sele was still oddly productive (in the win/loss department, if not in the actual pitching department) as was Paul Abbott.  Jamie Moyer won 20 games to lead the team.  Our rotation was rounded out with Halama and Joel Pineiro, who was a 12th round draft pick by the Mariners in 1997.  Pineiro would earn full time starting duty in 2002, but would never pan out as we’d hoped.

The bullpen was almost exactly the same as in 2000, except we replaced the dud that was Jose Mesa with the newly signed Jeff Nelson, who was still awesome.  Norm Charlton even made a comeback and was somehow good again; I’m telling you, these 2001 Mariners could do no wrong!  Until the playoffs, that is.

2002 Seattle Mariners

The 2002 Mariners traded David Bell prior to the season because they had previously traded for the hot-hitting Jeff Cirillo from the Colorado Rockies for Jose Paniagua and others.  The hot-hitting Jeff Cirillo never showed up, though.  Instead, his nothing-hitting twin brother showed up and sucked my will to live.  Cirillo played two mediocre seasons before being dumped on the Padres prior to the 2004 season for batting donuts.

Other than the Cirillo hubbub, the starting lineup was pretty much intact, with McLemore earning the starting left field job.

The rotation took some hits, with Halama and Abbott stinking up the joint, when they managed to stay healthy.  Moyer, Garcia, and Pineiro locked down the top three spots, with James Baldwin – a veteran free agent signing – totally crapping the bed.  The rest of the starts were spread out over a bunch of different pitchers, no one of note worth mentioning.

Sasaki, Rhodes, and Nelson locked down the best three-man late innings bullpen unit in baseball, with Shigetoshi Hasegawa signing in free agency to make a good bullpen even better (picking up the slack from losing Paniagua).

As I said before, this team would win 93 games, but it actually managed to finish THIRD in the AL West, with Oakland winning 103 games and Anaheim winning 99 and taking the Wild Card.  That’s just a crusher any way you slice it; 93 games in most years would be enough to get you there!  Not in 2002.

2003 Seattle Mariners

After the 2002 season, Lou Pinella left for another opportunity, this time in Tampa, where he made his offseason home.  The Mariners signed on Bob Melvin and tried to keep the train a-rollin’ with most of the same crew attached.

Same infield:  Wilson, Olerud, Boone, Guillen, Cirillo.  Cammy and Ichiro were still here, along with Edgar Martinez.  New addition:  Randy Winn (left field) who was traded to us by Tampa.  Winn played two and a half years with the Mariners, and they were quality seasons for him, but ultimately he’s a forgotten man for a couple reasons.  He came on too late, without a playoff appearance to his name.  Also, let’s face it, we were spoiled as Mariners fans.  We’d been blessed with this cavalcade of elite power hitters and Winn was anything but.  He was a nice piece, but ultimately not enough to push us over the edge into the post-season.

2003 came with it the oddity of having the same five pitchers start all the games that season.  Again, we had Jamie Moyer, Freddy Garcia, and Joel Pineiro.  Gil Meche returned from the wilderness of Injuryland to grab one of the final spots, with Ryan Franklin bringing up the rear.  Franklin was drafted by the Mariners in 1992, but didn’t sign until May of 1993.  He had his cup of coffee in 1999, then didn’t return to the Majors until 2001 out of the bullpen.  He had a few starts in 2002 and must have shown enough in Spring Training to win a job in 2003, because there he was.  Franklin was never what I would call “good” …

For as steady as our starting rotation was, the bullpen was a bit of a mess.  Sasaki became way too hittable and lost his closer’s job.  Rhodes was losing a bit on his fastball and his ERA suffered for it.  Nelson was still rock solid, and Hasegawa was dy-no-mite as the eventual closer replacement.  Julio Mateo was a bullpen regular with the Mariners after signing as an amateur free agent back in 1996 as a 19 year old, as was Rafael Soriano (also signed in 1996 as an amateur, though as a 16 year old).

In 2003, the A’s again won the AL West, though they only bested the Mariners by 3 games, winning 96.  The Mariners were 2 measly games back of Boston for the Wild Card, so once again they were all dressed up with nowhere to go.

The 2004 Mariners, I think seeing the writing on the wall, tried to reload by signing Raul Ibanez, Scott Spiezio, and Rich Aurilia, but it wouldn’t be enough.  Edgar Martinez, Bret Boone, and John Olerud all fell apart.  Dan Wilson was getting up there.  And the young pitching core of Garcia, Meche, Pineiro, and Franklin just weren’t panning out the way we’d all hoped.  The 2004 Mariners bottomed out with 63 wins and it was time to start all over again.

The only piece that would stick long term would be Ichiro, as even Jamie Moyer was traded in the middle of 2006 so he could go to a winner before he retired.  It’s been non-stop rebuilding ever since, and nothing thus far has worked for more than a season before falling apart again.  The 2013 Mariners are well on their way to a fourth place finish with the current regime led by Jackie Z on very thin ice.

What will the next great Mariners rebuild look like?  I haven’t a clue, but I doubt it looks very much like the team we’re watching right now.  Here’s to hoping the mojo returns soon, for the sake of my sanity and yours.

The Worst People In Seattle Sports History, Part I

You’ll forgive me if I’m not exactly in the most chipper of moods.  That’s what happens when some useless cunt brings bedbugs into your apartment building and you spend a sleepless week itching, cleaning, and bagging up all your shit.  Suffice it to say, I’m not exactly looking on the bright side of things.

I actually had this idea before.  It was supposed to be a series of posts dedicated to the most loathed sports figures in Seattle history.  Over two years have passed and I’ve let it go by the wayside, but while it has been neglected, the idea has not been forgotten.

The primary reason for this site’s existence is that notion that there is a Culture of Losing in Seattle.  Losing has become commonplace.  Losing has been the norm.  And losing has been accepted, which is most damning of all.  It’s the main reason why I can’t stand most Seattle sports fans, because they’ve cultivated this Everybody Gets A Trophy attitude about the sports they follow.  Granted, it’s probably HEALTHIER; it’s a hard fact of life that we certainly take sports too seriously.  But, it still pisses me off.

Oh, good try sweetie!

It doesn’t matter who wins, all that matters is how you play the game!

Well, we didn’t win, but if you had a good time that’s all that matters!

You played hard out there fellas, now let’s all go out and get some ice cream!

There’s always next year!

This is what I have to put up with whenever a Seattle team ends its season.  Nobody in Seattle ever expects to do well, so when a Seattle team makes the playoffs THAT’S a thrill in and of itself!  Like just making the playoffs is “good enough”.  Sure, winning a championship would be an incredible bonus, but isn’t being one of the top 4-8 teams in the league reward enough, you guys?

But, I suppose it’s not all the fans’ fault.  I mean, THIS is all they’ve known.  These shitty Seattle teams who have always let us down every year since 1979.  Yes, the level of shittiness fluctuates, but they’re shitty all the same because it’s been over 30 years since we’ve tasted the sweet nectar of championship victory in this city.

I have a list of people here – athletes, GMs, and owners – who are more or less universally despised.  My list is by no means complete, and I encourage anyone who has names to add to come forth and state why you feel that way.  I may eventually return to my “Seattle Hates …” series and single out these losers in their own individual posts, but for now I thought I’d just list as many as I can think of and go from there.

Seattle Mariners

The Mariners are far-and-away leading the pack of the most hated Seattle sports figures.  It’s almost impossible to rank them, but I’m going to give it a shot.

This hasn’t always been the case, but it’s definitely true today:  the most loathed Mariners figures of all time are now Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong.  I’ve written about these two before, so I’ll keep this brief.  Rest assured, it’ll be a happy day in Seattle history when the team is sold and these two lame-asses are shit-canned.  Why they haven’t resigned in shame years ago is beyond me.

Time makes the heart grow fonder is the famous quote by some guy.  In this case, time makes the heart grow less enraged.  At one point, I would argue that no one could possibly be hated more than Bobby Ayala.  Looking back on it, it probably wasn’t fair.  Then again, I’m sitting here with my eyes closed and I can still picture it:

Ayala hurls a split-fingered fastball that hangs in the middle of the plate as he falls off of the left side of the mound.  Opposing Batter X takes a mighty hack and launches the ball into the Kingdome seats.  Ayala turns to watch the ball leave the yard as the cascading boos provide the perfect soundtrack to the four opposing runners trotting across home plate.  Ayala, takes his cap off and wipes his sweaty brow with his sleeve as Lou Pinella walks out of the dugout, pointing at his left arm.

Bobby Ayala was kind of a joke (seriously, what grown man goes by the name “Bobby”), but the target of our vitriol shouldn’t have stopped with him.  Bobby Ayala represents the total and utter futility of those Mariners bullpens from 1995 … really through 2001.  In the mid-to-late 90s, those bullpens were terrible.  Granted, we were playing in a bandbox known as the Kingdome, but still.  Even after we left that concrete prison and moved into the pitcher’s paradise that is Safeco, and even after we drastically upgraded our bullpen talent with guys like Jeff Nelson, Arthur Rhodes, and Kaz Sasaki, our bullpen STILL let us down.  Nevertheless, you rarely hear about Seattle fans bashing The Sheriff.  You almost NEVER hear people killing Rhodes or Sasaki.  You might get some grumbling about Heathcliff Slocumb, but who are you madder at:  the pitcher who wasn’t any good, or the bumbling idiots who traded two studs (Varitek and Lowe) for the pitcher who wasn’t any good?

Nope, the hatred always comes back to Bobby Ayala.  To this day, I don’t understand it.  But, at the time, back in the day, I could certainly condone it.

A more-recent villain in this saga of the Mariners sucking is Bill Bavasi.  I know, for me, he’s one of my most hated Seattle sports figures of all time (not involved with the Sonics leaving Seattle, that is).  This website is pretty much a love letter to how much I can’t stand that guy; I don’t know if I’ve ever gone more than a few weeks without referencing him and lamenting how terrible he is at life.  At this point, it goes without saying.  But, if you need any fuel, I suggest taking a look at his very large section of idiocy.

I don’t really have the heart to do the research on these next few guys to see who was ACTUALLY the worst as a Mariner, but I’ll give you my opinion on who I disliked the most.

I’ll start with Richie Sexson.  He was the first installment in my “Seattle Hates …” series, so I won’t go too in depth here.  What I will say is that it has always boggled my mind a little bit that Adrian Beltre never saw the same amount of invective.  He made more money than Sexson, he signed for more years, and he was coming off of this 2004 season with the Dodgers:

200 hits, 48 homers, 121 RBI, .334 batting average, 1.017 OPS

Here is what he averaged in five seasons with the Mariners:

150 hits, 21 homers, 79 RBI, .266 batting average, .759 OPS

I don’t care what anyone else thinks, I’m calling Steroids on this bullshit not going to make wild accusations about something I know nothing about, even though this guy doesn’t pass the smell test by any means.  For funsies, here is what Beltre averaged in the three seasons since he left Seattle:

176 hits, 32 homers, 103 RBI, .314 batting average, .912 OPS

Are you kidding me?  OK, maybe that steroids crack was out of line, but COME ON!  How are you, as supposed Mariners fans, not enraged by this?  You boo and throw money at A-Rod decades after he left for an insane deal with the Rangers … why aren’t you fucking raining down sandbags at this fucking gold-bricker???  Adrian Beltre is a fucking bullshit artist and I’m leading the bandwagon to turn the tide against him; who’s with me?  Good defense at third base?  Fuck you, go home and play with your kids.  You were brought in here to fucking hit.  You hit with the Dodgers, you hit with the Red Sox, you’ve hit with the Rangers.  Man up and quit blaming the stadium for your insecurities you fucking mental midget.

Up next, we have Chone Figgins.  Who was a much better player when everyone thought his first name was pronounced “Ch-own”.  He signed a 4-year deal and sucked more and more every year he was on this team.  What’s worse, he didn’t appear to be even remotely sorry for the fact that he was the most over-paid piece of shit in the Major Leagues.  You’d hear stories about how hard he was working behind the scenes, but then you’d watch him play and what would you see?  An emotionless pile of shit striking out.  An emotionless pile of shit letting a ground ball go right past him.  An emotionless pile of shit unable to catch a routine fly ball.  Then, after the game, whenever he’d consent to an interview, you’d hear about how he needed MORE playing time to “play his way out of it”.  Or, if by the grace of fucking God he managed to have one of his three good games as a Mariner, he’d chirp his fucking head off after the game, talking about how he’s “still got it” and how he should be playing every day.  What a motherfucker.  To the bitter end, he left here thinking that he was a legit Major Leaguer.  I suppose that’s why he was released by the Miami Marlins in Spring Training this year.

Chone Figgins is a guy who grabbed his big payday, then proceeded to dog it until he was run out of town.  He didn’t give a shit!  He got his money and that’s all he cared about.  Now, he gets to sit on his ass while making upwards of $9 million for doing absolutely nothing.

Carlos Silva is another fan favorite, if by Fan Favorite I mean guy who we’d like to tar and feather.  He was supposed to be this adequate ground baller who would earn his money tenfold by pitching in the cavernous Safeco Field.  Instead, he got shelled, constantly.  And since he was signed for so long (4 years) and for so much money ($48 million), we had to give him every opportunity to try and turn things around.  Imagine it:  you and me and most everyone we know will live our entire lives scraping by like a dog on the streets; meanwhile Carlos Silva received nearly $50 million to suck dick.  Kinda makes you want to stop following sports, doesn’t it?

I’m going to wrap up this Mariners section with some rapid-fire.  Because it’s going on far too long and because I’ve got other things to do.

Jeff Cirillo was brought in after our 116-win season to lock down third base.  He was supposed to be one of the final pieces to push us over the top as a championship contender.  Instead, he was terrible.  My booze-addled mind has mostly blacked out the Jeff Cirillo stint as a Mariner, so bully for me.

Alex Rodriguez is a different animal entirely, but I can’t leave him off this list.  Where he differs from the rest is that – as a player wearing a Mariners uniform – he was universally beloved.  A-Rod was on the fast track to being as beloved as Ken Griffey Jr.  And, had he taken less money to remain a Mariner (or, had the Mariners ponied up a proper offer, depending on which story you choose to believe), A-Rod would PROBABLY be #1 on the all-time favorite Seattle sports figure list.  Instead, the moment he signed that 10-year, $250 million deal and put on a Texas Rangers uniform, A-Rod was Public Enemy #1.

Not by me, mind you.  Even at the time, I didn’t understand the sentiment.  Who WOULDN’T take that deal?  It was the biggest deal in MLB history!  How can you fault a guy for accepting that deal when it’s universally known that the Mariners weren’t able to come CLOSE to matching?  On top of that, the deal essentially crippled the Rangers and it took him until 2009 to finally win a World Series.  He’s been a laughingstock everywhere he’s been, he doesn’t appear to know how to relate to people, he has an addiction to strip clubs and banging chicks with muscular, dude-like bodies, and – oh yeah – he’s a steroids cheat.  Even if you don’t think he would’ve helped us win a World Series in 2001-2003, don’t you think we kinda dodged a bullet by NOT having him embarrass us seemingly every year?

In recent years, there have been any number of hated Mariners, as this franchise has found new depths of ineptitude.  Miguel Olivo, Justin Smoak, Jesus Montero, Jeff Weaver, Horacio Ramirez, Erik Bedard, Brandon League, Jose Lopez, Yuniesky Betancourt, Brad Wilkerson, Eric Byrnes, Kenji Johjima, Casey Kotchman, Rob Johnson, Ian Snell, Jack Cust, Hector Noesi, Blake Beavan … just to name a bunch.  As long as there are losing Mariners teams, there will always be people to hate.

I’m going to stop here and continue with the other teams another time.  This has been a lot more involved than I originally anticipated.

1997 Seattle Mariners: A Wasteland Of Unfulfilled Promise

The secret of success in life is for a man to be ready for his opportunity when it comes – Benjamin Disraeli

I don’t know who Benjamin Disraeli is, but I happened upon that quote just now and thought it perfectly encapsulates every halfway decent, contending Mariners team there’s ever been (and I thought it was a just pretentious-enough way to start a post like this).

The Seattle Mariners had some wildly talented teams between 1995 and 2003, but they were never SUCCESSFUL because they never took advantage of the opportunities they created.  The 1997 team is a great example.

You might be able to argue (and I might be willing to believe) that the 1995 Mariners – while sickeningly talented – were too raw and inexperienced to succeed in their first brush with greatness.  But, with this 1997 team, there was just no excuse!

The 1997 Mariners were like the 1995 Mariners on steroids (pun somewhat intended).  This team led the league with 925 runs scored, they broke the Major League record with 264 home runs, AND they seemingly shored up their starting pitching woes by bringing in a couple of veteran starters who were more-than-capable while our veterans in 1995 ultimately weren’t.

Before I get into the pitching, would you LOOK at this offense?

Ken Griffey Jr. – 56 homers, 34 doubles, 147 RBI, 125 runs scored, 1.028 OPS
Edgar Martinez – 28 homers, 35 doubles, 108 RBI, 104 runs scored, 1.009 OPS
Jay Buhner – 40 homers, 18 doubles, 109 RBI, 104 runs scored, .889 OPS
Alex Rodriguez – 23 homers, 40 doubles, 84 RBI, 100 runs scored, .846 OPS

I mean, it’s just up and down the damn lineup!  Anyone remember Paul Sorrento?  Even HE had 31 homers and 19 doubles!  Not counting left field (which was a wasteland of stop-gaps), 7 of our 8 regular hitters had an OPS over .800 (the lone guy under .800 was Dan Wilson, who in 1997 had himself 15 homes and 31 doubles)!  To put that in perspective, the 2011 Mariners only had one guy (Justin Smoak) who played in over 100 games have an OPS over .700!  Ruminate on THAT and tell me it doesn’t make you sick!  Five guys in 1997 scored over 100 runs each!  Three guys in 2011 scored over 50 runs each!

I could go on and on.  The point is, that 1997 lineup was fucking loaded like you wouldn’t believe.  No major injuries, no major slumps.  Just power, power, power til the cows came home.

On the pitching side, we had a legitimate Big Three going.  Randy Johnson bounced back from his lost 1996 season with a 20-4 record in 30 starts; good for 2nd in the Cy Young to Roger Clemons in spite of these numbers:  2.28 ERA, 213 innings pitched, 291 strikeouts, (12.3 K/9IP).  The team was 22-8 in his starts.  In those 6 no-decisions, 5 of them were Quality Starts that either got blown by the bullpen, or were shot by late-blossoming offense.  Either way, that’s pretty amazing (to look at Roger Clemons’ roided-out numbers from that year is an easy way to burst a blood vessel in my brain, so I’m not even going to go there).

Backing up The Big Unit, we had Jamie Moyer in his first full season as a Mariner (we traded for him at the deadline in 1996 for Darren Bragg – who? – exactly).  Moyer only went out and posted a 17-5 record with a 3.86 ERA.  No big deal.  And, as a legitimate third starter, we had Jeff Fassero, who we acquired from Montreal before the season for a big ol’ bag of nothing (admittedly, one of our more successful trades, until he fell apart in the 1999 season and we had to unload him).  Fassero ended up 16-9 with a 3.61 ERA.

Between our Big Three, they were 53-18.  The rest of the Mariners’ pitchers that year gave us a 37-54.  And boy did they earn every one of those 54 losses!

The 1997 season will always be remembered for one thing:  The Trade Deadline.  Specifically:  Jose Cruz Jr. for Mike Timlin & Paul Spoljaric, and Derek Lowe & Jason Varitek for Heathcliff Slocumb.  Not only were these trades two of the least popular (losing Cruz Jr. at the time, and losing Lowe & Varitek retroactively when we realized how great they’d become) and least successful, but you could argue that they didn’t make one lick of difference down the stretch.  All three were pretty pisspoor; and say what you will about Slocumb’s 10 saves in those final two months, I’ll remind you that he managed four losses in his short stint with us.

But, that goes to show you the absolute wreckage we were throwing out there late in games.  Norm Charlton was 3-8 with a 7+ ERA and was pretty much done for his career (and HE appeared in 71 games that season!).  Bobby Ayala was surprisingly effective with a sub-4 ERA, but he was a timebomb waiting to happen (and not in a good way).  We were throwing guys out there like Edwin Hurtado, Scott Sanders, Bob Wells, and Greg McCarthy … each limp dick worse than the last.  I’m telling you, I would’ve sold my SOUL for a repeat of our 1995 bullpen performance.  Saying nothing of what we would eventually accumulate at the turn of the century.

But, like I said, it didn’t really matter, because by the end of the season we were the best team in the AL West.  With THAT offense?  Oh yeah, you could’ve thrown six Steven A. Taylors out there and that team would’ve won 90 games.  I would lament the fact that we didn’t have shit at the back-end of our rotation, trying out guys like Bob Wolcott (until he was finally shut down come August for being totally worthless), Omar Olivares (in another deal that totally and completely backfired for this team), and Scott Sanders (who we got from San Diego for Sterling Hitchcock – who we got with Russ Davis for Tino Martinez & Jeff Nelson … think that 1997 team could’ve used Jeff Nelson?).  But, the truth of the matter is, the back end of our rotation isn’t why the 1997 Mariners ended up failing.  It never got to that point.

Even though the Mariners had the 2nd best record among the division winners, we got stuck playing the Number 1 seed Baltimore Orioles.  The Yankees, as it turned out, were 2 games worse than the Orioles, but they were the Wild Card and SHOULD have been the 4th seed.  The Cleveland Indians were the other division winner, but they had the worst record of them all, and by all rights should’ve been playing the Orioles, but that’s neither here nor there.  Leave it to Major League baseball to have a stupid rule that predetermines the playoff seeding (1997 would be the final year they did this, because DUH).

The Mariners won the division by beating the California Anaheim Angels on September 23rd, at a game – as chance would have it – that I attended.  I still have the scorecard and everything.  When Heathcliff Slocumb notched that final out, the Kingdome erupted like I’ve never heard it before.  The Mariners, after a year in the wilderness, were going BACK to the playoffs.  The Orioles, on the other hand, didn’t win their division until the 161st game of the season.  I don’t know if it made a lick of difference, but at least THIS time the Mariners would be able to set up their rotation so Randy Johnson would go twice in a five-game series (as opposed to 1995 where he started Game 3 and had to come in during Game 5 in an emergency relief situation).

The first game would be critical.  It was at home (the first two being at home before a theoretical three on the road), and our best guy was taking the mound.  So, of course the Mariners went up against the buzzsaw that was Mike Mussina.  He went seven strong innings, striking out 9 and giving up only 2 harmless runs.  The Big Unit, meanwhile, was very un-Unit like.  He got smacked around to the tune of 5 innings, 5 runs, 4 walks, and only 3 strikeouts.  The Orioles scored 8 runs in the 5th and 6th innings, with Mike Timlin & Paul Spoljaric taking the brunt of the punishment in the latter of the two innings.

The Mariners offense didn’t show up whatsoever.  7 total hits – 3 of them solo home runs – spread out over 5 innings.  Griffey was 0 for 4, Edgar was 1 for 4 … it was just a bad all-around effort as the Mariners lost 9-3.

With that turd behind us, Game 2 was now a Must Win.  Jamie Moyer had been solid all season, Scott Erickson was nothing to write home about.  So what happened?  Of COURSE the Mariners lost, again 9-3!  Moyer couldn’t even get through five innings, giving up 3 runs, and Bobby Ayala showed everyone why he was the most hated man in Seattle sports by getting drilled for the other 6 runs (in 1.1 innings).

And, once again, the Mariners’ offense was shut down.  9 hits, 7 left on base, 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position … just a BRUTAL stretch of games for the team with THE best offense in all of baseball.  AT HOME!

Which makes it a God damned miracle that the Mariners won game 3 at all.  At the time, I figured we were destined for a sweep.  I thought, of the three, Jeff Fassero was the LEAST likely to pull a game out.  But, he turned in quite the gutty performance:  136 pitches over 8 innings (because, seriously, would YOU trust that bullpen over a guy throwing that many pitches?), 1 earned run, 4 walks, but only 3 hits.  He kept them off-balance all game.  In fact, Lou left Fassero in there to start the 9th, but he walked a guy, which led to Heathcliff Slocumb coming in to make things interesting.

Fortunately for the M’s, they scored 2 in the top half of the 9th (thanks to back-to-back solo homers by Buhner and the red-hot Paul Sorrento) to pad their lead to 4-0.  So, when the Orioles bashed Slocumb around for two runs (one of them belonging to Fassero), it wasn’t a big deal.

FINALLY, the bats came out.  Granted, the Mariners only scored the 4 runs in their 4-2 victory, but they knocked Jimmy Key around for 8 hits in 4.2 innings.  We could’ve had a lot more (again, we were poor with runners in scoring position, only 1 for 7), but I wasn’t about to complain.  A win is a win, and THAT win meant that we’d see Randy Johnson again.

Mariners fans had opportunity to hope.  Yeah, we were down 2-1 in the series, with two more to be played in Baltimore.  But, we had The Big Unit on the hill again; you had to figure he’d bounce back from that poor effort in Game 1.  AND, you had to figure this offense was primed for a huge game.  We’d only scored 10 runs in the first three games; who’s to say we couldn’t score 10 in that fourth game alone?

Who’s to say?  I believe Mike Mussina was to say.  Once again, he shut us the fuck down, going 7 innings and giving up only 1 run.  Randy went the complete game in defeat, but it was to no avail as the Mariners lost 3-1.

This game was a clunker any way you slice it.  The Orioles jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first, the Mariners got one back on a solo Edgar Martinez home run, the Orioles added another run in the 6th, and that was that.  The Mariners didn’t even get a hit after that 2nd inning!  That’s how bad this potent offense was in this deciding game!  The Orioles combined to give up 2 hits and 4 walks!

You get a big ol’ gold star if you knew that Rob Ducey was the other Mariner with a hit in that ballgame.

The Mariners as a team batted .218 with 11 runs scored and only 11 extra base hits.  This is a team that batted .280 in the regular season with 597 extra base hits (an average of over three and a half per game).

You kinda knew that the pitching would be suspect.  I don’t think anyone saw Randy Johnson’s Game 1 coming, but you figured with that bullpen, runs would NEED to be scored.  And when they didn’t come, this team had no answers.

I hate thinking about the What If’s, but I’ll be damned if they’re not there.  What If we played the Yankees instead of the Orioles?  Some teams are just a BAD matchup for you, and the Orioles were that for us.  The Yankees’ pitching wasn’t NEARLY as good as Baltimore’s that year.  Plus, with that 1995 meltdown still dogging them, you had to wonder if maybe the Mariners were a bad matchup for THEM.  Granted, had we beaten the Yankees, we would’ve ran headfirst into another great Indians team, but at least we could’ve scored some fucking runs on them!

The ultimate What If simply lies in the fact that the Mariners had such tremendous talent on that team.  How do you have that many superstars (A-Rod, Griffey, Randy, Edgar) and lose in the first round in four games?  How is that POSSIBLE?  Three guaranteed Hall of Famers and another borderline!  These mid-90s teams were like the 1920s Yankees for Seattle fans!  Every major player on that team will always be remembered fondly.  Every major player either has been or will be publicly celebrated as a hero.  And we sunk faster than a block of cement being hurled into a lake.

That 1997 team was it.  The ’98 Mariners – while still highly talented on offense – ended up third in the AL West.  That was the same year they traded a disgruntled Randy Johnson because we wouldn’t give him the contract extension he so richly deserved.  The ’99 Mariners were again insanely good on offense, but Jeff Fassero fell apart, John Halama was worthless, and some of the other young starters never matured into anything you could use on a Major League diamond.  After that, they traded Griffey, Buhner was just about done, and they had officially built the team around a guy in A-Rod who would leave for Texas in another year.

1997 was the end of an era for this Mariners team.  Granted, they would make it back to the playoffs in 2000, but they were hardly the same team.  1997 will always be remembered as a damn waste, and nothing more.  A damn waste of raw, unrivalled ability, the likes of which we will never see on this team ever again.

All Time Mariners Greats, Part II – The Pitchers

I kinda lollygagged on finishing this post, but here’s Part I for reference.

Just as the Starting 9 was pretty easy, so is the Starting 5 in the pitching realm.  Here they are, in order:

  1. Randy Johnson
  2. Felix Hernandez
  3. Jamie Moyer
  4. Freddy Garcia
  5. Mark Langston

My initial draft had Cliff Lee in there as the 5th starter, but REALLY that’s kinda cheating.  Nevertheless, if the rules are:  must have been a Mariner at one time, then why WOULDN’T I go with Cliff Lee’s two months?  They were a GREAT two months!  But, I’m going to be reasonable on this one.

I like this rotation mostly because it shakes out with a lefty-righty-lefty rotation, which I guess most managers find important.  I also like it because, look at it!  Randy in his prime, Felix in his prime, Jamie in his prime, Freddy in his prime, Langston in his prime.  Granted, those last two names aren’t all THAT impressive – if you compare them to some other organization’s All Time Greats – but in a 5-game series, I’ll take what I’ve got here all day long.

In lieu of going on and on about how much I like these guys, I’ll just start listing numbers until you’re bored out of your mind.

Randy Johnson – 10 years, 274 games, 266 games started, 130-74 record, 3.42 ERA, 51 complete games, 19 shutouts, 2 saves, 2,162 strikeouts, 10.6 K/9IP, 5 All Star Games, 1 Cy Young Award.

Felix Hernandez – 7 years (and counting), 205 games started, 85-67 record, 3.24 ERA, 18 complete games, 4 shutouts, 1,264 strikeouts, 8.2 K/9IP, 2 All Star Games, 1 Cy Young Award.

Jamie Moyer – 11 years, 324 games, 323 games started, 145-87 record, 3.97 ERA, 20 complete games, 6 shutouts, 1,239 strikeouts, 5.3 K/9IP, 1 All Star Game.

Freddy Garcia – 6 years, 170 games, 169 games started, 76-50 record, 3.89 ERA, 9 complete games, 4 shutouts, 819 strikeouts, 6.7 K/9IP, 2 All Star Games, came in 2nd in Rookie of the Year balloting in 1999.

Mark Langston – 6 years, 176 games, 173 games started, 74-67 record, 4.01 ERA, 41 complete games, 9 shutouts, 1,078 strikeouts, 8.1 K/9IP, 1 All Star Game, came in 2nd in Rookie of the Year balloting in 1984, won 2 Gold Gloves.

And, fuck it, for good measure, my 6th starter:

Cliff Lee – 2 months (with an extra month on the DL), 13 games started, 8-3 record, 2.34 ERA, 5 complete games, 1 shutout, 89 strikeouts, 7.7 K/9IP, 1 All Star Game (traded to Rangers before the game).

Now, where things have really screwed me here are the relievers.  I’ll start with the list and I’ll tell you why I did it as such.

Closer – J.J. Putz
8th Inning Set-Up (Righty) – Jeff Nelson
7th/8th Inning Set-Up (Lefty) – Arthur Rhodes
7th Inning Set-Up (Righty) – Mike Jackson
Other – Brandon League

So, the main reason why I didn’t pick the All-Time Mariners leader in saves for my closer (Kaz Sasaki) is because I could never STAND that guy (Kaz Sasaki).  That guy was a junk artist with one good pitch!  But, when that pitch is offset by a 90 mile per hour fastball with no movement, essentially you’re looking at a Blown Save waiting to happen.  He had three good years (out of four total), all three of those good years ended without a World Series title (or, shit, even an APPEARANCE), and that fourth year was some of the worst pitching I’ve ever seen.  So, no, to hell with Sasaki!  J.J. Putz is my guy!

Putz wasn’t quite the guy who replaced our greatest closer ever closer with the most saves, but he replaced the guy who replaced the guy.  Easy Eddie Guardado was the meat in that sandwich, and what all three of those pitchers had in common is all three had great forkballs.  Easy Eddie taught his to J.J. Putz, and J.J. Putz turned around and ran with it.

Putz had the single greatest year a closer has ever had when he absolutely OBLITERATED the American League in 2007:  68 games, 40 saves, 82 strikeouts vs. 13 walks, 37 hits in 71.2 innings pitched, 1.38 ERA, 0.698 WHIP, 10.3 K/9IP, and only 2 blown saves.

And, let’s face it, Putz’s career with the Mariners wasn’t too shabby overall.  He’s 2nd in saves with 101 and his career M’s ERA was just a few hairs over 3.  He blew 24 saves in 125 opportunities for an 81% save percentage.  Granted, Sasaki’s save percentage was 85%, but two things:  first, that percentage went down every year (as he continued to lose MPH on his fastball); and second – this is more of a perception than actual fact – it just SEEMED like Sasaki blew more big games.  Granted, he was involved in more big games, but regardless:  he didn’t get the job done in my book.

Jeff Nelson is the obvious 8th Inning guy for us.  He was absolutely BRILLIANT as a Mariner … and then we foolishly traded him away in a cost-cutting measure to the Yankees because – surprise surprise – the Mariners’ ownership is a piece of shit and always has been.

Arthur Rhodes is the obvious lefty specialist for us, even though all of my memories of him involve giving up home runs to those fucking Yankees in back-to-back ALCS seasons (2000 & 2001).  Still, he was a horse, and I argue that if we didn’t over-work him so bad those years, he wouldn’t have broken down at the end (72 games in 2000, 71 games in 2001).

I don’t know if Mike Jackson was as obvious, but I always liked him.  The Mariners had him in the late 80s/early 90s and let him go, then they got him back in 1996 and he was the ONLY good reliever on a team that was a healthy Randy Johnson away from going back to the playoffs (that 1996 team is my personal favorite, by the way, even though they underachieved something fierce; 1995 was when I found the Mariners, 1996 was when I became obsessed).

As for my final reliever, this is the one that really dogged me.  I didn’t want to pick a lefty just to have another lefty, I didn’t want to pick a closer just to pick a closer, and I didn’t want to pick a reliever who just managed to stick around with the Mariners for a bunch of years.  I eliminated Mike Schooler because he really only had a couple good years.  Same thing with Shigetoshi Hasegawa.  Norm Charlton and Bobby Ayala can eat my fucking asshole.  And while Mike Timlin had a season and a half of some pretty good baseball, he’s still and will forever be associated with one of the more unpopular trades in Mariners history.

Then, I thought about Brandon League.  Why NOT Brandon League?  He already stands at Number 9 on the Mariners’ all time saves list (to show you how pathetic that stat has been for the Mariners over the years) and he could quite possibly climb into the Top 5 before he’s traded for prospects at the Trade Deadline later this summer.  He’s got wicked-good stuff (a plus fastball with movement, and a plus out-pitch in his split finger), and if we’re only asking him to get a few 7th inning outs every few days, what’s the harm?

So, League is my final reliever (not counting Cliff Lee, who’s my long man), and anyone who disagrees can bite me.

In conclusion, here’s my 25-man roster in all its Mariners glory:

  1. Ken Griffey Jr.
  2. Edgar Martinez
  3. Randy Johnson
  4. Ichiro
  5. Felix Hernandez
  6. Jamie Moyer
  7. Alex Rodriguez
  8. Alvin Davis
  9. Jay Buhner
  10. Dan Wilson
  11. J.J. Putz
  12. Freddy Garcia
  13. Adrian Beltre
  14. Bret Boone
  15. Jeff Nelson
  16. Arthur Rhodes
  17. Mark Langston
  18. Mike Jackson
  19. Mike Cameron
  20. Raul Ibanez
  21. Cliff Lee
  22. Mark McLemore
  23. Omar Vizquel
  24. Brandon League
  25. Kenji Johjima

Led by Manager Lou Pinella, obviously.