Tempering Expectations For This Mariners Rebuild

What interests me most about the game of baseball is the long game. In football, you’ve got rosters twice the size of a baseball team, yet we see it every year: teams going from worst to first. You can turn around a football team in one offseason! But, in baseball, it takes seemingly forever (and, for an organization like the Mariners, LITERALLY forever).

I did a big, long post about the first successful Mariners rebuild. I originally wrote that in 2013, when we all were hopeful that we were in the middle of the next successful Mariners rebuild. There were so many moves made between the nadir of this franchise (2008) and the next time you could legitimately say the Mariners were in contention for the post-season (2014, when we finished 87-75, just 1 game back of a Wild Card spot) that it truly boggles the mind.

That rebuild was ultimately a failure. It produced three winning seasons between 2014 and 2018, and zero playoff appearances. Following last year’s collapse, Jerry Dipoto made a bunch of moves to jettison veterans and infuse the farm system with prospects. Our veteran holdovers include names like Dee Gordon, Ryon Healy, Mitch Haniger, Kyle Seager, Marco Gonzales, Mike Leake, Felix Hernandez, Wade LeBlanc, Roenis Elias, Dan Altavilla, and Dan Vogelbach; most (if not all) of those players will not be on this team the next time it reaches the post-season.

So, we’re stuck rooting for prospects. Rooting for potential. Rooting for the young guys to step up and prove themselves not just worthy of Major League roster spots, but ultimately good enough to get this team back to the playoffs one day (ideally one day very soon). Jerry Dipoto is staking his reputation and his job on these players. If it all falls apart like it did last time, he, Scott Servais, and a bunch of other very smart baseball men will be looking for employment elsewhere.

As I noted, we’ve been through this before. So, let’s take a walk down memory lane.

See, it can be fun and exciting knowing your team is out of it before the season even begins. First, there’s no expectations, so any on-field success you see is all gravy. Then, of course, there’s the factor of the unknown. New, young players you’ve never seen before are ALWAYS more interesting than old veterans who’ve been around for years. We pretty much know what guys like Seager, Healy, Felix, and Leake are; there’s nothing to learn about those guys. So, we pin all our hopes and dreams on the prospects. We want to see them in a Major League uniform right this minute, to pump them full of experience with the hopes that they’ll pan out immediately. This can lead to guys getting called up too early (a la Mike Zunino, Dustin Ackley, Matt Tuiasosopo, etc.) or guys just being huge disappointments.

Let’s start with the 2008 season, the aforementioned nadir. That team lost 101 games and we were all miserable. Successful players like Felix, Ichiro, Adrian Beltre, Raul Ibanez, Jose Lopez, and even Yuniesky Betancourt were no match for the suck-asses that were Richie Sexson, Jose Vidro, Jeremy Reed, Carlos Silva, Jarrod Washburn, Erik Bedard, and so on. General Manager Bill Bavasi was fired, and The Great Jack Zduriencik Rebuild was on!

2009 proved to be a welcome surprise. Franklin Gutierrez was brought over in a trade, as was Jason Vargas (Doug Fister was one of the rare Bavasi draft picks that stuck in the org and actually panned out). Ichiro was still Ichiro! Russell Branyan and David Aardsma were quality pick-ups. Even the return of Ken Griffey Jr. for a victory lap proved valuable. That 85-win season led everyone (but the stat geeks, who knew those wins were on a shaky foundation) to believe we were way ahead of the curve on this rebuild. So much so that Jackie Z decided to make a big push to go for it in 2010.

We traded for Cliff Lee! We got rid of Carlos Silva and brought back a useful piece in Milton Bradley! Our young core of starters (Felix, Vargas, and Fister) were bolstered with key bullpen additions like Brandon League, Jamey Wright, and Sean White. So, what happened? The team fell apart (ultimately losing another 101 games; in hindsight, a second go-around with Old Griffey proved disasterous) and shipped off anyone of value for prospects. Lee was flipped for Justin Smoak (among others). Our high draft pick was used on a pitcher who got hurt so many times he never made the Bigs. And The Great Jack Zduriencik Rebuild 2.0 was on.

2011 was a key year for the rebuild, as the team REALLY went for it this time. Taking a stroll through that roster is long and arduous. Ichiro, Miguel Olivo, Brendan Ryan, Chone Figgins, and Adam Kennedy were the veteran everyday players; Felix, Vargas, Bedard, and Fister were still holding down the rotation (though Fister would be swapped for a bunch of nobodies at the deadline; yet another example of a trade that totally backfired for the Mariners); and League, Wright, and David Pauley (among others) were the steady influences in the bullpen. But, the young guys were the stars of the show. 2008 first rounder Dustin Ackley was called up midseason, as was Kyle Seager. Justin Smoak was handed the first base job. Guti started his slow descent into an injured adulthood. Then, there were guys like Michael Saunders, Greg Halman, Alex Liddi, Casper Wells, Trayvon Robinson, Chris Gimenez, Carlos Peguero, Adam Moore, Mike Wilson and more. On the pitching side of things, Michael Pineda was an All Star, but then there were guys like Blake Beavan, Charlie Furbush (remember when he was a starting pitcher?), a younger Tom Wilhelmsen, Josh Lueke, Dan Cortes, Chance Ruffin, and Shawn Kelley.

Those were all the players we hung our hats on. How many of them actually panned out? You can count them on one hand. How many of them panned out for the Seattle Mariners? That number is even smaller.

2012 saw the influx of guys like Jesus Montero (swapped for Michael Pineda), Hector Noesi, Erasmo Ramirez, Lucas Luetge, Stephen Pryor, Carter Capps, and John Jaso. They were paired with the holdovers like Smoak, Seager, Ackley, Felix, Vargas, Ichiro (starting his decline) and Figgins (at the end of his miserable Mariners career).

Then, there’s 2013, with prospects like Brad Miller, Nick Franklin, Mike Zunino (a year after being drafted), Brandon Maurer, James Paxton, and Taijuan Walker. Veterans like Kendrys Morales, Endy Chavez, Raul Ibanez, Mike Morse, Jason Bay, Jeremy Bonderman, and Hisashi Iwakuma saw extensive playing time, but it ultimately wasn’t enough. The old guys didn’t do enough (and most were gone in short order), and the young guys (predictably) never panned out for this team.

So, please, keep all these duds in mind as we go forward. You’re going to hear A LOT of new names you’re not familiar with in 2019 and 2020. The team is going to tout these players as The Future; don’t believe ’em. The vast majority of these players will be more in a long line of losers that help to keep the Seattle Mariners out of the post-season.

Some guys will be promising, only to fall flat on their asses the following year when expectations are raised and other teams learn how to handle them. Some guys will be promising only to suffer devastating injuries that hinders their development. Some of those injured guys will be brought back too soon, only to struggle and lose their confidence. Some guys will just flat-out stink from the get-go. One, maybe two guys, will be okay. But, they won’t be enough. They’ll just embolden this organization to spend a bunch of money when the time “feels right”. At that point, some flashy veterans will be brought in to supplement our future “rising stars” and we’ll go through the process of “contending (for a wild card spot)” all over again.

The Mariners are never going to be the Astros or Cubs or Red Sox or Yankees or Dodgers. They’re closer to the Athletics and Rays than anything else, just a Major League farm club for better-run organizations. The tremendous amount of luck required to turn us into one of those truly good teams isn’t ingrained in the city of Seattle and its sports teams. The best we can hope for is competent mediocrity.

The best we’re going to get is just outside, looking in.

What The Hell, Scott Servais?

I don’t rail against the manager very often, because honestly the manager doesn’t have that great of an impact on the game.  He sets a lineup, and he manages the bullpen.  Everything else is on the players themselves, the GM who brought us these players, and the umpires – who are really more of a constant than a variable – who generally do a good job, but tend to fuck up more than robots would.

So, when Scott Servais does something dumb with his ONE JOB, I’m going to say something about it.  Because Jesus Fucking Christ.

Top of the 8th inning, Mariners up 3-2.  Paxton did a pretty good job, but let his pitch count get the better of him thanks to some bad home plate umpiring and a lack of command of his fastball.  The combination of Nick Vincent and Scrabble got us to the 7th, and Tony Zych got us a couple outs into the 8th.  He hit the leadoff hitter, though, and after getting the two outs, left-handed bat Kole Calhoun stepped to the plate.  Lefty reliever James Pazos had been warming up since way back in the 7th inning (or maybe earlier, who can recall?), and was sufficiently ready to go.  Makes perfect sense, no?

Apparently fucking not, as Scott Servais had the brilliant fucking idea of bringing in our closer to get the 4-out save.

Let’s start here.  I think we all understand why someone would bring in a lefty reliever to face a lefty batter, but we’ll get to that in a minute.  Scott Servais has this bug up his ass about getting Edwin Diaz more work.  He’s a young guy and therefore his arm is ready for a bigger workload.  People have taken this to mean that the Mariners are going to use Diaz like the Indians use Andrew Miller – not necessarily to get the final 3 outs of the ballgame, but to come in during the most important late-game situations, regardless of whether it’s a save situation or not.  But, that’s false.  Servais just has no confidence in this bullpen (because why should he?) and knows he’ll need to lean on the guys he can trust to work more than just the one inning per appearance.  Diaz is still this team’s closer, but now he’s going to have to get more than three outs to get his saves.  It’s still all catering to the save statistic, so this isn’t fresh or new thinking whatsoever!

Edwin Diaz has done nothing to deserve this type of confidence, by the way.  Maybe if we were talking about Mariano Rivera in his prime, we could discuss bringing him in to work multiple innings.  But, so far, Diaz hasn’t even worked a full season’s worth of games in the Majors yet!  He won the closer job because his first month or so was electric (and Cishek really screwed the pooch), but guys know how to hit him now!  He’s not throwing 100 mph anymore.  He’s still wild, but not effectively wild like he was when the league was still getting to know him.  And, quite frankly, he’s blown too many saves to be considered an elite closer.  He’s no different than Fernando Rodney, Brandon League, Steve Cishek, David Aardsma, Tom Wilhelmsen, or any of these other jokers who have yet to be good for more than one season for the Mariners.

So, of course Edwin Diaz gave up the go-ahead 2-run homer to Kole Calhoun!  And of course the Mariners tied it up in the bottom of the 9th to send it to extras!  And OF COURSE James Pazos came into the game in the 11th inning – about 4 innings after he’d started warming up in the first place – and WOULDN’T YOU KNOW IT, the first batter he faced was the very same Kole Calhoun!  Did he give up a homer to the man?  NO!  He struck him out!  Because he’s a left-handed pitcher facing a left-handed batter, and that’s generally what tends to happen in those situations, SCOTT SERVAIS, YOU PUTZ!

Granted, Pazos would go on to give up two runs in the 11th inning to lose us the ballgame, but that’s not on him.  If he were used properly, in the top of the 8th, when he was warmed up and fresh, his command may have been a little more on par with the rest of his appearances this season.

Also, not for nothing, but if Pazos was brought in for just Calhoun in the 8th inning, THAT WOULD’VE BEEN THE ONLY BATTER HE WOULD’VE FACED, BECAUSE HE WOULD HAVE STRUCK THAT MOTHERFUCKER OUT!

I have no idea what Diaz would’ve done if he’d just come in fresh for the 9th inning with no runners on base, but that’s a hypothetical for another time.  In this universe, Scott Servais botched the fuck out of this one, and cost the Mariners a win they desperately needed.

Repeat after me:  Edwin Diaz is NOT the be-all, end-all of this bullpen.  He’s probably not all that much better than anyone else down there, if we’re being honest.  His consistency leaves a lot to be desired.  He’s trying to get away with just his natural gifts, and that’s not going to fly in the MLB, because those hitters have a lot of natural gifts too, and they tend to expose pitchers who throw it up there without knowing where it’s going.

God damn this season is frustrating as fuck.

I’m not going to title this “Edwin Diaz Is A God” because that would just jinx him and the Mariners don’t need that kind of hoodoo right now

“I’m A god.  I’m not THE God, I don’t think.”

We’ve all seen the numbers.  27 innings, 53 strikeouts, 26 hits allowed, 8 walks allowed, and his 6th earned run allowed last night in a 3-1 victory.  Most importantly, he’s yet to blow a single lead (both of his losses were in tie ballgames on the road).  But, I’m not here to obsess about numbers.  Read literally every other baseball-centric blog, because if they haven’t already opined about the genius that is Edwin Diaz, they will soon.

I just want to talk about how jacked up I am to have Edwin Diaz in my life.  I haven’t felt this way about a Mariners pitcher since Cliff Lee dawned the blue, grey, and white for two healthy pre-trade months.  I haven’t felt this way about a Mariners reliever since … ever?

So, you know what?  Fuck it.  When is the other shoe gonna drop?  Let’s get real here!  The Mariners can’t seem to have more than one season of quality closing before these guys turn into pumpkins (and in Cishek’s case, not EVEN a full season!).  Let’s look back at the long list of crap:

  • Steve Cishek (2016) – Great start, but lost his job after 4 months and 25 saves
  • Fernando Rodney (2014-2015) – Great 2014, but lost his job HARD in 2015 to a combo of Carson Smith and Tom Wilhelmsen
  • Danny Farquhar (2013) – Finished the season as the closer, replaced by FRE, was never good again
  • Tom Wilhelmsen (2012-2013) – Finished 2012 & started 2013 as the closer, then fell apart
  • Brandon League (2011-2012) – Was solid in 2010 as an 8th inning guy, was an All Star in 2011, fell apart quickly in 2012
  • David Aardsma (2009-2010) – Was great in 2009, was okay in 2010, but ultimately much worse and eventually lost his job to League (and injuries)
  • J.J. Putz (2006-2008) – Was legitimately great in 2006, had one of the all-time greatest seasons for a reliever in 2007, then had an injury-plagued 2008 before being traded
  • Eddie Guardado (2004-2005) – Had an injury-shortened 2004, was rock solid in 2005, then fell apart in 2006 and was traded away
  • Kaz Sasaki (2000-2003) – Was a 32 year old Rookie of the Year, then had two All Star appearances in 2001 & 2002, before falling apart in 2003 and leaving the country after his 4-year career.  Put up solid all-around numbers, but I never really felt comfortable with him protecting a lead in a big game (particularly the playoffs)

Before that, it was all bums and The Sheriff.  The point is, unless you want to count Sasaki (which I really DON’T), the Mariners have never really had a long-term solution to the closer problem.  They have good, great, even epic seasons here and there, but ultimately nothing LASTING.  I want LASTING, God dammit!

I want Edwin Diaz to be the real thing, and I want him here for the next decade plus, is that too much to fucking ask?

Hisashi Iwakuma Is Outstanding, Fernando Rodney Is Not

Updated, with comments about the latest episode of 24:  CRAZY TERRORIST MOM WATCHES CRAZY TERRORIST DAUGHTER HAVE SEX WITH RELUCTANT TERRORIST HUSBAND FOR, LIKE, TWO MINUTES BEFORE IT’S ALL OVER.  Boy, does 24 have zero respect for a man’s ability to delay orgasm in the throes of passion or what?  There’s nothing more entertaining than watching a sex scene start, followed by a commercial break, followed by the completion of said sex scene DURING the commercial break … unless it’s Jack Bauer having sex, in which case they’d need to call the show 48 (with a whole season’s worth of episodes being the most hardcore pornography you’ve ever seen in your life) …

Lost in all of this is that the Mariners’ offense has nearly blown the last TWO Iwakuma starts.  Both last night, and last week against Kansas City, Rodney was given 1-0 leads to close out in the ninth inning.  Yes, it’s a lead, and you expect your highly-priced free agent closer to keep those leads intact – that is his fucking JOB after all – but come on.  Iwakuma goes 8 shutout innings in both games, giving up a combined 8 hits, 0 walks, while striking out 12 … and the Mariners can only muster 1 run per game?

Is this how it’s going to be?  Is Iwakuma going to be the Hard Luck In Run Support Guy?

I don’t usually make it a point to sit down and watch – uninterrupted – a full Mariners game unless there’s about 12 beers in my immediate future, so last night was kind of a rarity.  But, when I’m confronted with a pitching matchup like Iwakuma vs. David Price, I can’t say no!

And believe you me, if there was any hype to this game outside of the Seattle area, this game lived up to that hypothetical hype and then some!

David Price is a stud and has been a stud for quite some time.  Hisashi Iwakuma has been a stud for considerably less time, but make no mistake, he’s a stud nonetheless.  You wouldn’t think it to look at him.  He’s not overpowering.  He doesn’t even have the crazy movement of a Yu Darvish.  But, he’s got the bottom of that strike zone on lockdown, he’s got just enough movement to induce a Darvish-esque amount of whiffs, and he’s always in command.  His pitches GO where he wants them to go and DO what he wants them to do.

Remember when Iwakuma was the slowest pitcher in the Major Leagues?  Or, at least it kinda felt that way and Dave Sims wouldn’t shut up about it?  So, even though he was effective, his games were still sort of unbearable because they took forever or just felt like they took forever because you had to listen to Sims’ whining for 3+ hours?  Well, now his games are Must See TV.  Except better, because honestly who could stand the last four or five seasons of Friends anyway?

I’ve read in a few places people referring to Iwakuma as an Ace.  It will never stop sounding odd to me.  When I think of an Ace, I think of someone like Felix Hernandez.  Someone who’s renown and lauded throughout the land.  Someone who is the constant source of hacky baseball articles asking, “When is Terrible Team X going to trade So & So?”  But, not only is Iwakuma NOT renown and lauded throughout the land, he’s not even renown OR lauded in his own (American) backyard!

You wanna talk about an underrated master of his craft, I’ll tell you what; Hisashi Iwakuma is easily a Top 10 pitcher in the bigs and is TOTALLY worthy of his being in every Cy Young conversation.  The Seattle Mariners have two amazing Ace pitchers on their staff, pretty much for the price of one.  Now, what we have to ask ourselves is:  can we afford to extend him long-term?

***

On the flipside, we have Fernando Rodney.  BOY do people not like this guy right now!

There are two sources of Mariners fans’ ire last night/this morning:  Fernando Rodney (for being a piece of shit) and Lloyd McClendon (for letting the piece of shit blow the save in the 9th, instead of letting Iwakuma attempt the complete game).  Iwakuma had only thrown 97 pitches through eight masterful innings, so unless you’re afraid of the 100-pitch bogeyman coming to steal all of our souls the instant Iwakuma threw his third pitch of the ninth inning, it’s reasonable (under normal circumstances) to expect a starting, Ace pitcher to be capable of throwing 110-120 pitches without turning into a pumpkin.

But, of course, these aren’t normal circumstances.  I know you see the calendar and you see it’s the middle of May – we’re in our seventh week of the regular season at this point.  But, Iwakuma was just wrapping up his third start of the year.  This is, like, the second week of Iwakuma’s season (and how many guys do you see throwing complete games in the first or second weeks of their seasons?).

Also, Fernando Rodney has a specific job on this team:  he’s the closer.  As defined by the parlance of our times, The Closer is The Guy who gets The Saves.  Meaning:  he comes into the ninth innings of games where your team is ahead by 1 to 3 runs, tasked with the charge of getting the final out(s) of the ballgame.  My recommendation to you:  don’t think about it too hard.  Don’t let the lack of logic dictate your emotional response.  Don’t wonder why you wouldn’t put your best reliever in the highest leverage situation, regardless of whether it counts as a “save” or not.  Hell, don’t acknowledge the fact that the “save” is inherently a non-essential statistic.  If you’re smart enough to know that saves are bullshit, and defined bullpen roles are useless and counter-intuitive, then you’re smart enough to know that THIS is the sport you’ve decided to spend your lives obsessing over:  the game isn’t going to radically change its most basic principles just because one subsect of its fanbase finds something totally and completely ridiculous.

Or, to put it in other words:  if you don’t like it, then you can GIT OUT!

America is baseball and baseball is America.  They rarely change or make concessions for their intellectual elite (of which, I should point out, I do NOT consider myself a member; I’m more “Intellectual Above Average” on my best day, but I’ll gladly welcome anyone who wants to lavish praise upon me).  Fernando Rodney is our closer, and he’s going to come into Save Situations whether we like it or not.

My problem with Fernando Rodney is:  he tries to get too cute.  He falls in love with that change up like he’s fucking Pedro Martinez or something.  I used to be irritated with David Aardsma because all he did was pump the strike zone with fastballs; his secondary pitches were pretty much useless and so he just hardly ever threw them.  David Aardsma, though, was one of the most effective closers the Seattle Mariners have ever had (currently 4th on the all time franchise list with 69 saves, which would be depressing as fuck-all if it wasn’t hilarious … 69 …).  Why was he effective?  Because he went with what worked.  His fastball was as straight and flat as it gets, but he threw hard and he induced more weak contact than strong contact.

Fernando Rodney has a good fastball.  It beats the hell out of Aardsma’s, because it also has natural movement.  So, WHAT THE FUCK is he doing dicking around with David DeJesus to lead off the ninth inning last night?  Just pump his ass full of fastballs and let him get himself out!  Don’t hand-deliver him a change up in the middle of the zone and let him jack it out of there for the game-tying blown save!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  Fernando Rodney is dumb.  He’s a big, dumb animal disguised as a pitcher.  He has two pitches – fastball & change up – that he throws in the area of the plate and lets their natural movement dictate whether they’ll induce outs or not.  Don’t ask him to hit spots!  Don’t ask him to intelligently work a hitter by changing his eye level or forcing him to over-think what’s coming next.  If it happens, it’s dumb, blind luck, because once the ball leaves his hand, Fernando Rodney has no control whatsoever as to what that ball is going to do or where it’s going to end up.

Next time you see him in a game, don’t watch Rodney, watch the catcher.  Watch where the catcher sets up his body, watch where he puts his glove before the pitch is thrown, and watch where that glove ends up once the ball is caught.  RARE is the pitch where the catcher doesn’t have to reach wildly across his body to collect the baseball thrown by Fernando Rodney.

I say all this, and yet I know in my brain that Fernando Rodney hasn’t been THAT bad.  Or, at least, the results haven’t been that bad.  He’s even had a small number of 1-2-3 innings that have been a shock to us all.  Nevertheless, this is how it’s going to be for the next season-plus.  Closers are going to blow saves from time to time.  It happens.  It’s frustrating – all the moreso when it happens after a Felix or Iwakuma start – but it happens.  They’re not perfect.  And, if they are, it’s always an anomaly.  Fernando Rodney already HAD his anomaly season, in 2012; that’s not going to happen again.  You’re not going to see the guy with the sub-1 ERA and the 2 blown saves all season.  If we’re lucky, we’ll get the Fernando Rodney from 2013 with the sub-4 ERA and the 8 blown saves.

8 blown saves isn’t the worst thing in the world.  That’s, like, a little over one per month.  It becomes a problem if, over the next week or two, he comes out and blows another 3 or 4 saves (or, as it’s known around here, The Brandon League Special).  A quick check of the calendar shows that we don’t have any games in Cleveland, Chicago, or Baltimore anytime soon, so I think we’ll be okay.

Well, We’re Here: The 2014 Mariners May Begin

I suppose now is as good a time as any.  Get some predictions out in the ether, give an overview of the team as it stands now and the team as it may prove to stand at season’s end.  But, look, you know the score.  I don’t need to sit here and tell you what to think about the Seattle Mariners.  It’s pretty obvious.

Felix is great.  Erasmo Ramirez and James Paxton are young and have promise.  Taijuan Walker is on the 15-day DL, is younger, and has even more promise.  Hisashi Iwakuma is on the 15-day DL, is going to miss maybe twice that number of days, and is better than everyone but Felix.  This rotation could be pretty rock solid, or it could turn into total crap.  There’s been more growing pains with the youngsters in this organization than actual episodes of Growing Pains!

The bullpen just looks terrible.  Outside of Danny Farquhar and maybe Yoervis Medina, I’m expecting a whole lot of crap out of this unit.  On the plus side, we appear to have guys waiting in the wings.

Prediction #1 – Tom Wilhelmsen won’t make it into the month of May.  I don’t know if he has options, but I assume he does.  Either way, I think he’s finished as a Major Leaguer.  Which makes him the third of three consecutive closers we’ve used (to go along with Brandon League and David Aardsma) who we should have absolutely traded at the peaks of their abilities.

There are a couple guys in Tacoma who are ready to play in the big leagues right now.  And Stephen Pryor isn’t far away from a return as well, as he also starts the season on the 15-day DL.  I expect A LOT of turnover out of this bullpen, because I just don’t trust most of the guys we have (the less said about Hector Noesi the better; the fuckin’ guy “earns” a 25-man roster spot even though he has no business even earning a paycheck in the game of baseball, just because he’s out of options, the fucking prick).  Fernando Rodney strikes me as the type of guy who is going to come in here and be a complete disaster.

Prediction #2 – Fernando Rodney will lose his job as this team’s closer at least once this season.  I think Farquhar is going to kick off this season like a man possessed and ultimately save us a lot of games (not literally, of course, but the term “save” is mis-used in the game of baseball anyway) by coming in during high-leverage 7th & 8th inning situations and generating lots of strikeouts with inherited runners on base.  I also think that Rodney is going to start off very up & down, then he’s going to go through a huge slump where he can’t find the strike zone, necessitating a “temporary demotion”.  The only way he gets his closer’s job back is if Farquhar has to go on the DL or something.  Let’s call Fernando Rodney:  Jose Mesa 2.0.

Unfortunately, as seems to always be the case, the hitting doesn’t inspire any more confidence than the pitching.  If you’re a Glass Half Full type of guy, then you like our chances with players like Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, Brad Miller.  You probably feel like it’s only a matter of time for Corey Hart to regain his feel for the plate and start mashing again.  You’re probably encouraged by Dustin Ackley’s newfound stroke at the plate and are confident enough in his left field defense.  You likely think we have something pretty great in Mike Zunino (and feel he will take a big step forward this year).  And, you might even buy Justin Smoak and Michael Saunders being competent role players (as opposed to being guys who are supposed to carry the load, which we thought they should have been early in their careers).

If you’re that Glass Half Full guy, you’re probably feeling pretty confident, and obnoxiously so.  At the first sign of success out of this team, you’ll be there with your “I Told You So’s,” and your “I Believed In Justin Smoak All Along; Where Were You’s?”.  If you’re the Glass Half Empty guy, then you probably like Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, and no one else.

Brad Miller is supposed to break out this year, but when has that ever gone our way?  Mike Zunino is supposed to cement his position as the Catcher of the Future, but when has THAT ever gone our way?

Prediction #3 – Mike Zunino is going to struggle with injury again and we’re going to get MUCH more of John Buck than we would like.

Dustin Ackley had a good second half to last season and has carried that over into Spring Training, but we’ve seen that out of him and Justin Smoak every fucking year, and when has that ever panned out into a successful full season in the Majors?  Michael Saunders?  Please.  Corey Hart?  Yeah, that’s a bust waiting to happen.  Logan Morrison?  I don’t know him, but I’m sure he’s a jerk.

In case you couldn’t tell, I’m much closer to the Glass Half Empty guy than the Glass Half Full guy.  If you twisted my arm, I’d probably tell you I’m a little excited to see what Brad Miller becomes.  But, I just find it difficult to see this lineup being all that effective.

I do think Abe Almonte will be better at the plate than his Spring Training numbers indicated.  I also really look forward to Stefen Romero and hope he earns some additional playing time in right field.

Overall, what do I expect out of this team?  Shit man, I dunno.  Last year we were hovering right around 10-under .500 for most of the year until September when we completely fell apart and ended the season 71-91.  This year, if everything that can go wrong DOES go wrong, I would expect that very same record.  On the plus side, if everything that can go right DOES go right, I would expect something along the lines of a 91-71 record.

Now, a lot of things would have to go right.  Felix would have to be his usual Cy Young self.  Iwakuma will have to make it back by month’s end and return to his last year’s form.  Paxton, Walker, and Ramirez will all have to be great right out of the gate.  Fernando Rodney won’t necessarily need to be what he was two years ago, but he’ll have to be somewhere between that level and the level he was last year (or, in other words, he’ll have to be BETTER than he was last year), while the rest of the bullpen (once Noesi is shit-canned and Wilhelmsen makes Tacoma his permanent home) starts to gel as the season wears on.  And, of course, all the young-ish guys – Miller, Zunino, Ackley, Smoak, Saunders, Almonte – as well as one of either Hart or Morrison at DH, will have to be better than we could reasonably imagine.

It sounds like a lot, because it IS a lot.  It’s too much to ask of a roster.  Can you ask all 25 guys on a baseball team to just, “Hey, BE BETTER!”?  I doubt it.  That’s why we’ve got:

Prediction #4 – The Mariners will finish 76-86.  Instead of taking a steep nosedive in the final month of the season, the Mariners will kind of hold their own.  Which, in turn, will knock them out of the protected Top 10 draft pick, and will be a minor annoyance to all.  This leads me to:

Prediction #5 – Jackie Z will be kept on as the General Manager of this team, because … he’s earned it?  Yeah, let’s go with that.  Rather, I like to think of it as punishment for a job poorly done.  In my twisted little mind, I like to imagine Jackie Z really hates his job.  He hates getting up in the morning, coming into the office, reading all the hate out there.  He hates being terrible at his job, but the team JUST WON’T FIRE HIM, so what’s he going to do?  He’s heard about all of these guys who left the organization and went on to bigger and better things, and he wants that, he really does!  But, it doesn’t happen unless the Mariners let him go.  He can’t quit, because that would make him a quitter and would ruin his chances elsewhere.  But, if he’s fired, then he can say, “What could I do?  They were too far gone when I got there!  AND, they didn’t give me enough time to turn it around.”  So, every day he trudges in to work, hoping for the pink slip that never comes.

The Major Moves Of Jack Zduriencik

On October 22, 2008, Jack Zduriencik was hired by the Seattle Mariners to be their General Manager.  Here are the major player personnel moves the Mariners have made in that time.

For the 2009 Season:

12/3/2008 – Signed Russell Branyan to 1-year contract
12/10/2008 – Traded J.J. Putz, Jeremy Reed, Sean Green, and others for Jason Vargas, Franklin Gutierrez, Endy Chavez, Mike Carp and others.
1/20/2009 – Traded for David Aardsma
1/29/2009 – Signed Mike Sweeney to 1-year contract
2/18/2009 – Signed Ken Griffey Jr. to 1-year contract
7/29/2009 – Traded for Jack Wilson & Ian Snell

For the 2010 Season:

11/11/2009 – Re-Signed Ken Griffey Jr. to 1-year contract
12/8/2009 – Signed Chone Figgins to 4-year contract
12/16/2009 – Traded for Cliff Lee
12/18/2009 – Traded Carlos Silva for Milton Bradley
12/23/2009 – Traded Brandon Morrow for Brandon League
1/7/2010 – Traded for Casey Kotchman
1/21/2010 – Re-Signed Felix Hernandez to 5-year extension
1/29/2010 – Signed Eric Byrnes to 1-year contract
2/6/2010 – Re-Signed Erik Bedard to 1-year contract
2/12/2010 – Re-Signed Mike Sweeney to 1-year contract
6/27/2010 – Traded for Russell Branyan
7/9/2010 – Traded Cliff Lee & Mark Lowe for Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan & others

For the 2011 Season:

12/2/2010 – Re-Signed Erik Bedard to 1-year contract
12/10/2010 – Signed Jack Cust to 1-year contract
12/12/2010 – Traded for Brendan Ryan
1/3/2011 – Signed Miguel Olivo to 2-year contract
1/10/2011 – Signed Adam Kennedy to 1-year contract
7/30/2011 – Traded Doug Fister for Casper Wells, Charlie Furbush, & others
7/31/2011 – Traded Erik Bedard & others for Trayvon Robinson & others

For the 2012 Season:

11/27/2011 – Traded Josh Lueke for John Jaso
12/8/2011 – Claimed Lucas Luetge in Rule 5 Draft
12/21/2011 – Signed Munenori Kawasaki to 1-year contract
12/30/2011 – Signed George Sherrill to 1-year contract
1/5/2012 – Signed Hisashi Iwakuma to 1-year contract
1/18/2012 – Signed Oliver Perez to 1-year contract
1/23/2012 – Traded Michael Pineda & Jose Campos for Jesus Montero & Hector Noesi
1/24/2012 – Signed Kevin Millwood to 1-year contract
7/31/2012 – Traded Steve Delabar for Eric Thames.  Traded Brandon League for others

For the 2013 Season:

11/2/2012 – Re-Signed Hisashi Iwakuma to 2-3-year contract
11/3/2012 – Re-Signed Oliver Perez to a 1-year contract

These by no means comprise ALL of the moves, but if I tried to list ALL the moves I’d be here all fucking month.  These are the guys who, more or less, made some kind of an impact on the major league ballclub.  I left out anything related to the draft, because it’s not draft season and that’s not really the point of this post.

What has Jackie Z done to improve the Major League ballclub?

You can see on the timeline where it all went awry.  Just about all of his major moves before the 2009 season were solid gold!  And, of course, what happened in 2009?  The Mariners ended up with 85 wins and somehow found themselves contending to the last month (or so).  It was only natural to think, given a few tweaks here and there, the 2010 season could be pure magic.

So, what did Jackie Z do?  He brought out the whuppin’ stick.  Within a 10-day period, we had our first MAJOR major signing of the Jack Zduriencik era:  Chone Figgins, 4 years.  No one at the time thought that was a stupid idea.  Piggybacking on that, in the aforementioned 10-day period, we brought in Cliff Lee to have one of the better 1-2 punches of all baseball starting rotations; and THEN we traded the dead weight of Carlos Silva for a possible reclamation project in Milton Bradley!  Hell, a bag of turds would’ve been better than Carlos Silva, so either way, there’s no losing THAT deal, right?  To top off his offseson, Jackie Z traded for League (to bolster the back-end of our bullpen), Kotchman (to give us some defense and decent pop at first base), and re-signed Felix to a 5-year extension.

I mean, my GOD, if Jackie Z wanted me to suck his dick after that string of moves, I gladly would’ve closed my eyes and opened my mouth.  THIS is exactly what we’ve been missing out of our baseball GM all these years!  He was doing it, he was really doing it!  There could be no downside to these moves!

Except, Figgins turned to crap.  Kotchman continued being crap.  Bradley continued being crap.  Griffey fell off the map.  Cliff Lee was hurt for the first month of the season.  League was nothing special (and Morrow still might be for someone else).  Byrnes was a fucking disgrace to the game of baseball.  We eventually had to bring back Branyan in a mid-season trade (and even THAT couldn’t prevent our offense from being the worst in the modern era).  And, since we weren’t contending, there was no point in holding onto Cliff Lee; we traded him for what looks like utter shit and disappointment.

Every move for that 2010 season (save re-signing Felix) COMPLETELY backfired.  And yet, at the time, every move was completely defensible!  The only thing you could possibly argue is:  the Mariners didn’t go far ENOUGH.  Of course, that’s the story of this franchise (see:  1996-2003).

After that, the organization put a total and complete halt on trying to contend whatsoever.  Going into 2011, the Mariners signed two veterans at the minimum (Cust & Kennedy), traded for a defense-only shortstop (Ryan), and their only major signing was Olivo on a 2-year deal with an option for a 3rd (that has since been denied, because Olivo).  That was it!  Four guys!  One of which was released before season’s end!

2012 was no picnic either.  Three more veterans at the minimum (Millwood, Sherrill, Perez), a backup shortstop (Kawasaki) who was somehow worse at the plate than Ryan, a Japanese pitcher coming off a major shoulder injury (Iwakuma), a Rule 5 reliever (Luetge), a backup catcher who somehow turned into the cream of the crop (Jaso), and another backup catcher in trade (Montero) who will hopefully be a future designated hitter for years to come.

It’s been two straight years of sifting through a muddy river of shit hoping to find a few tiny flecks of gold.

Now, with enough money off the books, and with the fanbase completely up in arms over all the losing, the Mariners are ready to spend money and hopefully try to compete once again.

Which got me to thinking.  Well, this blog post by Geoff Baker got me to thinking.  The money quote:

Towards the end of the call, I asked Zduriencik about the Chone Figgins experience and whether it caused any hesitation for him going forward when it comes to this winter’s crop of free agents — especially when it comes to inking longer-term deals of more than three years. I wasn’t doing it to rub his face in the Figgins mess — which no one really could have seen imploding as badly as it did — but rather to gauge whether this current administration is prepared to go longer than three years on any deal this winter.

The two biggest free agent acquisitions of the Jack Zduriencik era (not counting Felix, since he was already under contract) before this offseason’s Iwakuma deal have been Chone Figgins (4 years, $36 million) and Miguel Olivo (2 years, $7 million).  That’s IT!  The rest of his moves have either been in trade or of the bottom-feeding veteran minimum variety.

Obviously, this has been by design.  The organization wanted to rid itself of burdensome contracts.  The organization wanted to let some of the young kids play, to see if a “youth movement” could jumpstart things.  But, also, the organization was patently unwilling to increase payroll for the types of free agents that were becoming available the last two offseasons.  Let’s call a spade a spade here; the Seattle Mariners were pushing the Reset Button on this whole thing and starting over from scratch.  I don’t mean that literally, of course; it’s not like they could just waive everyone they didn’t like and bring up all new guys.  But, essentially, the Reset Button is what they did.

Up until now, I would say that the Figgins contract had little to do with the Mariners’ overall plan (except, obviously, they needed to fill their third base position with a rookie).  I don’t think being gunshy about Figgins’ 4-year deal prevented the Mariners from signing other guys to long-term contracts.  I think it was all the reasons I stated above.  That having been said, though, if the Mariners don’t sign someone to a long-term contract THIS off-season … then I’d have to say the Figgins deal is weighing on them.

It would only be natural, after all.  I mean, who WOULDN’T be gunshy?!  From the day Jackie Z took this job, give me the names of the free agents who have worked out beyond even a decent first season?  Yeah, the answer you’re looking for is ZERO.  Hisashi Iwakuma would be the first, if he comes back in 2013 and does well (which is no guarantee, let me tell you).

So, yeah, they SHOULD be apprehensive!  They SHOULD do as much due diligence as humanly possible on this offseason’s free agent crop.  Because it’s fucking NASTY out there!  You’ve got lemons and land mines all OVER the place!

Two Terrible Decisions Involving Brandon Morrow & The Mariners

If you’re new to the site, I highly encourage you to take some time out of your day and check out my “Seattle’s Worst Trades, Draft Picks, & Free Agent Signings” page.  It’s chock full of slap-your-forehead, pull-your-hair-out goodness awfulness!

As you make your way towards the bottom of that page, you’ll notice what happened on June 6, 2006:  the day the Seattle Mariners drafted Brandon Morrow.  “But, how can THAT be a bad thing?  Isn’t he a pretty good pitcher?”

Slow down, friend!  He’s okay, but he still has his flashes of complete ineptitude.  However, I believe he’s well on his way toward being great … let’s just not get ahead of ourselves.

Drafting Brandon Morrow was a mistake.  It was a mistake because we passed on Tim Lincecum, who was a home-grown product who went on to win back-to-back Cy Young Awards.  Tim Lincecum is great, in spite of his rocky start to this season.  Brandon Morrow is not great.  Brandon Morrow will probably NEVER win a Cy Young Award.

But that doesn’t mean he won’t be a damn good pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays (and then, when his contract ends, the New York Yankees).

I know Mariners fans are pretty happy with the young pitchers we have coming through the pike:  Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker, and James Paxton.  But, the Mariners could have had all of those guys PLUS a top-flight starter in Brandon Morrow.

And instead, we gave him away for a would-be closer and a guy named Johermyn Chavez who COULD be a good outfielder for us, or he could be absolutely nothing.

I always liked Brandon Morrow.  Not as much as I would’ve liked Lincecum, but I thought he had raw ability that would take him far.  And essentially, we gave him away for a relief pitcher who probably won’t be around beyond this season, and an outfielder who’s probably many years away from making a dent (if he ever makes it at all).

In short, drafting Brandon Morrow was a bust of a move, and trading him for League and Chavez was a bust of a move.  Yesterday, Morrow 3-hit the Angels in Los Angeles.  He had 8 strikeouts and 0 walks.  Last week, he dominated the Mariners over 6 shutout innings (but, then again, who HASN’T dominated the Mariners over 6 shutout innings).  Last year, he might not have had the best numbers, but he showed flashes of what he could eventually become.  This year, I think he’s finally making that leap towards being an elite starting pitcher.  (and, let us never forget that 2010 game where he had 17 strikeouts against the Rays, while only giving up 1 hit … anyone who can do THAT, you gotta figure will eventually put it all together in the realm of Consistency).

Even if you think trading Morrow was a smart move, what we GOT for him isn’t NEARLY as much as we could’ve gotten if we would’ve just held onto him these past couple years.  Really, trading him when we did made little-to-no sense when you think about it.  Yeah, it coincided with the 2-week period where we made the Cliff Lee deal (which was awesome) and the Chone Figgins signing (which was lauded when it happened); but it would’ve been foolish to think we would seriously contend.  And, even if you DID think we were going to contend, I guarantee having Morrow at the back-end of our rotation would’ve been a lot more beneficial than having Brandon League locking down the 8th innings behind David Aardsma.

Pretty soon here, when I get around to it, I’m going to have to add a date to my Seattle’s Worst Trades, Draft Picks, & Free Agent Signings page.  December 23, 2009:  the day we gave away a potentially dominant starting pitcher for dandelion seeds.

Double The Blown Saves, Double Your Agony

Of course, as soon as I start singing the guy’s praises, he goes out and gags one away in the bottom of the 13th inning – in a game we SO should have won!

These are always the games that leave you shaking your head as a Mariners fan, muttering to yourself at the same time, “I can’t believe we just lost,” and “I very much CAN believe we just lost!”  It’s just such a Mariners way to lose a ballgame.  Let’s see, how about we have a starter give us a quality start that’s later turned into a No Decision – check.  Let’s take a 1-run lead into the 8th inning and give it to our most consistent set-up reliever, only to see him give up 2 runs on 3 hits and a walk – check.  Let’s then get some runners on, start a rally, SCORE … but not take the lead so we have to go to extras – check.

Then, let’s hand the game over to a soft-tossing left-handed long reliever and watch him get out of jams like he’s Houdini for three innings – check.  Let’s watch our offense continue to stink in those same three innings – check.  Let’s let that same soft-tossing left-handed long reliever who’s been turning water into wine for the past three innings go one more, only to give up a double and an intentional walk without generating an out – check.  And, let’s bring in our least-consistent reliever to get us out of the jam … and actually SUCCEED  – check.

Finally, let’s push across a run, give it to our closer who’s thus far in the season been perfect, and watch him get beaten to a pulp as the other team runs onto their field to celebrate.  Check, check, check, check, check.

What an unsatisfying end to a pretty exciting and worthwhile baseball game.  I don’t know if there’s anything in sports I hate more than the Blown Save.  Last night, we had two of them, by our two best relievers.  On the same day, I might add, that we discovered David Aardsma will likely need surgery and be out for the entire season.  How about THAT for an ominous sign of things to come!

Also, don’t look now, but the Mariners have lost three consecutive games.  I’m not ready to lose the good feelings of the last two weeks!  Mariners, win tonight!

Brandon League Should Be Our Closer

Part of me cringes whenever I think about a guy losing his job simply because he’s injured.  It seems to me, if you were good enough to hold down a position before you were injured, you should still be good enough to get it back when you’re fully healthy.  After that, it should be your play – and not necessarily the play of another – that determines whether you keep your job or not.

But, that cringing part of me doesn’t really love the idea of David Aardsma coming back and being our closer.

After two full years, we know what David Aardsma is.  He’s a right handed power pitcher with decent-to-good command of his fastball, who isn’t afraid to pitch inside and who isn’t afraid to pitch up in the zone.  He gets a lot of flyball outs and generally makes every 9th inning he’s involved in one of the most exciting 9th innings of that particular day’s worth of baseball.  Outfielders who like to show up on Baseball Tonight for their Web Gems LOVE playing behind David Aardsma.

He’s had 69 saves in those two years, out of 78 chances.  He’s had 119 strikeouts in 121 innings pitched over this period.  His ERA was 2.52 in ’09 and 3.44 last year.  He’s BEEN effective.  Which is impressive, because that’s the exact opposite of what he had been before he came here.

David Aardsma isn’t a bad guy.  But, he’s a known quantity, and for that I say, “Out with the old!”

Brandon League is exciting!  He’s a bit of an unknown in that we haven’t had a chance to see him close for a full season.  Yes, last year he was frustrating at times – he probably single-handedly cost us anywhere from 5-10 games with his meltdowns – but there were also times where he was abso-fucking-lutely brilliant!  How about the stretch between July 23rd and August 29th when he made 19 appearances and only gave up 1 earned run?  1 earned run in 23.2 innings!

You know what League’s got that Aardsma doesn’t?  An out pitch. 

Here’s the scenario:  Jamey Wright comes in to start the 9th inning of a tie game.  He walks the leadoff batter, they sacrifice him over to second base, then he proceeds to walk the bases loaded.  We need 2 outs to get out of this inning and give our guys another chance to score.

Option A:  bring in David Aardsma.  He starts pumping fastballs left and right, gives up a flyball to deep center, and that’s our ballgame.

Option B:  bring in Brandon League.  He starts pumping 98 mile per hour sinkers, then flipping it on them by throwing his wicked split-finger.  The odds of a strikeout by swinging over the top of his forkball are WAY better than a strikeout by swinging through Aardsma’s straight fastball.  League also has the added advantage of being able to induce ground balls.  Ground balls lead to double-plays.  A double-play would get you out of that scenario unscathed, in case you were wondering.

You want more reasons?  How about the fact that Brandon League is most certainly a part of our future at the position.  David Aardsma is trade bait.  He’ll make just as good bait by being our 8th inning set-up man as he would by being our closer.

You know how I know League is our future?  Because we traded our top draft pick for him!  Brandon Morrow may or may not develop into a front-end-of-the-rotation starter; regardless, he was a top prospect sent packing.  To recoup even a fraction of that deficit, we NEED League to be our closer and to be our closer for the duration.

And, as long as League can somehow avoid the massive 4+ run meltdowns of last season, I think he can be that guy for us.  So far through a month he’s gone 12 innings and only given up 3 earned runs.  He’s 8 for 8 in save opportunities.  I’d like to see him build on this momentum.  But, to do that, it’ll mean denying the leader of this bullpen from the last two years.

One thing on my side:  Eric Wedge wasn’t our manager the last two years.  He doesn’t necessarily owe Aardsma a damn thing.

An Epic Ninth Inning

I can already tell you I’m not going to like Chris Ray.  That guy has a funky delivery, so herky jerky and awkward.  It looks like he has absolutely no idea where the ball is going to go after it leaves his hand!  Which would be fine if he threw 99 miles per hour with movement; but his goes 92 or 93.  I mean, he JUST got pounded and everything was smack dab in the middle of the strike zone.  YOU DON’T HAVE THE KIND OF STUFF TO BLOW GUYS AWAY, CHRIS RAY!  Paint the fucking corners or get the hell out of my way!

So, that happened.  Vargas had a very Vargas-like performance, and we took a 2-1 lead into the 8th where it was subsequently blown.  Yes, it is Game 2 and we have our first blown save of the year!

By the by, here’s a little tip:  Jamey Wright and Chris Ray, they have almost identical stuff.  League-average (read: hitable) fastball, curveballs that don’t do a whole lot of curving, both are right handed and white, etc.  MAYBE it’s best not to pitch them back-to-back.  MAYBE, when we throw one, we put in a guy who actually throws hard the next inning!

I’m harping on this early and often because I want to nip this Chris Ray in the bud.  He won’t be ruining this month for me!  God I want Aardsma back in the worst way (never thought I’d see myself writing that).

Anyway, where was I?  YES, the Epic Ninth.  Bottom of the 8th, we’re Ray’d right in the nuts, but luckily he somehow held the damage down to a single run.  We still had the tie, but it had the FEEL of 2010, much like the first game.

You know, we have excellent starting pitching, but we run into the buzzsaw that is Brett Anderson (he had an ERA of 0.81 against us last season in five games).  Somehow we get a run off of him and make him leave after only 6 innings, then we work another run across the plate to get a miniscule lead.  Starting pitcher has to leave, our bullpen gives up the tying run, and then we go on to lose it in the bottom of the 9th or in extra innings.

Well, NOT THIS TIME!

This time, we did it.  I don’t know how, but I’ll be God damned if we didn’t somehow do it.  It looked like this:

Jack Wilson jerks a single into left field to start things off.  Michael Saunders lays down an excellent sacrifice bunt to move him to 2nd base.  Miguel Olivo then hits a single to deep center that Wilson has to wait on to make sure it’s not caught, so he only advances to 3rd.  This gives us runners on the corners with only 1 out.  Haven’t we seen this situation a million times before, last season?  All we need is a fly ball or heavens forbid an actual hit, but instead we strike out, or hit a come-backer to the pitcher, or when we have the winning run go on contact, that very contact is a hard ground ball to the 3rd baseman (a.k.a. the ONE person we can’t hit the ball to in that situation).

Well, luckily for us, we had Ichiro at the plate.  He hit a sharp grounder to first base who had to go home with the throw.  Except these are the A’s, so their defense is horrible.  I don’t think they would’ve gotten Jack Wilson anyway, as he WAS going on contact, but there we go!  Infield single, and a 3-2 lead.

But, it doesn’t stop there.  Because in all the chaos of that play, Olivo made it all the way to 3rd base.  On the next throw from pitcher Brian Fuentes, he scored on a wild pitch.  THEN, Ichiro stole 3rd base, all while Chone Figgins is at the plate!  Figgy hits a sacrifice fly to deep center and that’s your ballgame.  A tie game goes to a 3-run lead and the first of hopefully many Brandon League saves.

HE looked on tonight, by the way.  Good, very good.  Let’s keep THAT up.