Seattle Mariners 2012 Postmortem, Part 1 (Hitters)

Apparently, there’s only been a handful of things to talk about since the season ended:  Mariners reaction to the Arena Deal, Mariners jacking up season ticket prices, Mariners not winning any post-season awards, Mariners signing some particularly non-interesting free agents, and the Mariners talking about possibly sometime this offseason signing some yes-interesting free agents.

The Mariners’ post-season has been pretty much like the Mariners’ regular season:  mostly shitty.

So, fuck it, let’s dive right in.  The Seattle Mariners finished 75-87, which was a whopping 8-game improvement over 2011, and a 14-game improvement over bottoming out in 2010.  Remember how shitty 2010 was?  The team you just watched all spring and summer finished exactly 14 games better.

I don’t think anyone wants to re-hash 2010 all over again, so let’s leave that off the table for now.  For a moment, let’s take a look at how we got the 8-game improvement over 2011.  What changed?

Well, for starters, Miguel Olivo had 184 fewer plate appearances.  That’s a good start!  He had a .620 OPS in ’12 vs. a .641 OPS in ’11, but what’s important to remember is:  THOSE ARE BOTH TERRIBLE OPS’s!  Less of a shitty thing doing shitty things is a good thing.  Always remember that kids.

Where did the rest of those plate appearances go?  Well, a lot of them (361 to be exact) went to John Jaso, who had an .850 OPS.  Now, granted, we had kind of a 3-headed hydra locking down two positions (DH & Catcher) with Jaso, Olivo, and Montero (who had a .685 OPS), but as you can clearly see, John Jaso really saved this team a lot of embarrassment.  We had no one resembling Jaso in 2011, at any position, and if you look at the numbers, you can see that he was good for at least 3 of those wins all by himself.  And he did it in an essentially part-time role; dude didn’t play a lick in April, and not much more in May before being thrust into the game regularly thanks to Olivo’s injury (and Olivo’s overall shittiness).

You know what else helped?  Giving Chone Figgins 119 fewer plate appearances.  An already part-time player went down to almost nothing in 2012.  We tried giving him the leadoff spot, he started for the entire month of April, and what did he do?  He rewarded us with a second consecutive season of sub-.190 batting.  I know veterans like to complain about their pisspoor numbers by stating they don’t get to play enough to turn things around; well, you know what?  Earn it.  DESERVE it and we’ll let you play.  Remember when you were just starting out in the Majors and you had to earn your time?  Do it now.  Don’t expect it.  Don’t ask for it to be handed to you because you’ve been around forever.  Force the manager to play you by playing well.  That’s all I’ve got to say.

Everyone seems to think Figgins will be let go this offseason.  I’m not buying it until I see it’s already happened.  Every time someone has predicted Figgins’ release, what’s happened?  He’s remained.  If they were going to let him go, wouldn’t they have done it by now?  Wouldn’t they have done it during another last-place finish in 2012?  When the fans could’ve used a morale boost in the waning summer months?  Or immediately after the season, when fans were already on edge about ticket prices and Arena Deals?  What are they WAITING for?  Do they REALLY think they’re going to get another team to eat his 2013 salary?  That ship has sailed!  You know how everything in life is a risk?  Well, it’s time to take a risk; it might be the safest risk you’ve ever taken.  Drop Figgins.  Yes, he will likely get another chance with another team, with the risk being:  he will dramatically improve and rub it in all of our faces.  Don’t worry, he won’t improve.  He’s the worst.  He’s LITERALLY the worst Major League Baseball player.  I know, hindsight being what it is, that it’s fairly embarrassing to have signed a guy to such a large contract only to have him be completely worthless.  But, you don’t have to worry about any such embarrassment with him going on to great success elsewhere.  He won’t.  Trust me.

What else happened?  Carlos Peguero had about 100 fewer plate appearances.  And, of course, Jack Cust had 270 fewer plate appearances (hint:  he had 270 plate appearances in 2011).

But, enough with that.  My overall view:  the hitting was slightly better, the starting pitching held up reasonably well, and the bullpen was pretty lights out.  That’s how you improve by 8 games.  Now, the only question is:  how do we improve by another 20 and reach the playoffs?

***

Let’s look at some starters.  Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager both had full seasons.  They played some in 2011, but in 2012 they went wire-to-wire, holding down second and third base respectively.  How did they do?

Seager was a definite bright spot for this team.  He wasn’t amaze-balls or anything, but he was pleasant.  The line:  .259 BA, 35 doubles (led team), 20 homers (led team), 86 RBI (led team), .738 OPS.  Not bad, right?  Not bad for a guy’s first year in the majors.  He’s no Mike Trout, but then again who is (besides Mike Trout, obvs)?  If he can figure out a way to get that batting average to go up another 20 points or so, you’re talking about a VERY valuable piece to a team.  And remember all those clutch 2-out base hits with runners in scoring position?  Apparently, there were a lot.  And those were sure fun to watch.

Ackley, on the other hand, was a bit of a disappointment.  The line:  .226 BA, 22 doubles, 12 homers, 50 RBI, .622 OPS (Olivo-ian levels), and a whopping 124 strikeouts (2nd highest on team).  I mean, what can you say about Dustin Ackley’s 2012?  He had 292 more plate appearances than he did in 2011, yet he lost 144 points on his OPS.  That’s bad.  As a left-handed batter, he somehow managed to bat WORSE against righties!  He batted .215!  And, he was probably one of the few on the team who managed to bat BETTER in Safeco as opposed to on the road, so you can’t even use that as a valid excuse!

The only thing you can do with Ackley is write off 2012, hope he got some good experience out of the deal, and hope he improves dramatically in 2013.  He’s a #2 overall pick.  He can’t be this bad for this team to survive; he just can’t!  He needs to cut down on the strikeouts and bring up the walks in a big way.

Another certifiable black hole in our lineup was Justin Smoak.  Good fucking God.  The line:  .217 BA, 14 doubles, 19 homers, 51 RBI, .654 OPS.  I don’t know what to say.  We traded for him in 2010, gave him a cup of coffee in the second half, then let him start for the entire 2011 season.  Of course, he was injured for about half of that, but he had a strong close to his season, so we brought him back as a starter in 2012 (as if we had any choice, what with the purse strings being tightened each and every year since 2008).  We figured, “OK, when Smoak was healthy in 2011, he was good.  SURELY he’ll be good when he’s healthy in 2012!”

And, of course, he sucked.  He sucked so bad that the team had to send him down to Tacoma to work on some things.  The only reason he was brought back as early as he was is because Mike Carp couldn’t stay on the field without injuring himself.  So, Smoak was gone from July 24th thru August 13th.  He left with a .189 batting average.  He played regularly from August 14th thru the end of the month and finished August with a .190 batting average.  Lotta good that trip down south was.

He continued to tread water until September 15th, when he entered the day still batting .190.  From the 15th onward, Smoak went 25 for 63, good for a .397 batting average over 17 games, with 5 of his 14 doubles, 5 of his 19 homers, and 10 of his 51 RBI.  He raised his final batting average to a still-dreadful .217, but nevertheless, that’s a 27-point increase over the final 17 games.  When you play as much as Smoak did in 2012, that’s a fairly impressive hot streak.

What does it mean?  Obviously nothing.  If I could bank on having these types of torrid 17-game streaks multiple times throughout a season, then maybe I’d be a little more excited.  But, tacking just the one on at the end of a horrendous season is nothing to hang one’s hat on.  I mean, yeah, anything can happen.  But, is Smoak “figuring it out” at all likely?  Not really.

So, we’re 1 for 3 so far for 2012.  1 supposed building block for the future did well.  2 did not.  What about Jesus Montero?

Again, we’re talking about a guy who played in his first full Major League season.  I tend to give these guys a pass, especially if they managed to stay IN the Majors for the full season.  Montero was never sent down, but some thought he maybe should’ve been.

The line:  .260 BA, 20 doubles, 15 homers, 62 RBI, .685 OPS.  What I notice right away is that Montero didn’t have a whole lot of super highs or super lows.  Once his batting average kind of normalized around .260, it didn’t waver all that much.  He had a mid-season lull in July where he found himself in the .240s, then he kind of bounced back in August where he was briefly scraping the .270s, but for the most part he was right around .260 the whole time.  Again, for a first year player playing a full first year … not terrible.  You’d like to see some more walks, or if not that, at least a lot more power, but whatever, it was what it was, and what it was wasn’t the worst.

That isn’t to say he doesn’t have a lot to fix He has a lot to fix, though.  His Home/Road splits, for one, are an abomination.  His home OPS was .605; his road OPS was .768.  That’s CRAZY.  Obviously, you have to hope that bringing the fences in will help normalize some of that.  But, even still, that’s a huge psychological disadvantage he’s got swirling around in his head.

You like crazy splits?  How about this one:  vs. right handed pitchers, his OPS was .609; vs. lefties, his OPS was .830.  Against lefties, Montero is downright dominant!  The only problem is, he only bats about 1/3 of the time against lefties.  That means 2/3 of the time he’s pretty much worse than a replacement level player.

Nevertheless, I think you’d take the total package if he was a dominant force defensively.  Except, no, he’s not.  He was allowed to play in 56 games as a catcher vs. 78 as a DH.  As a defender, he was worse than replacement level.  He’s not projected to be a starting catcher in this league; he will either be a DH or a converted first baseman.  Either way, you’re talking about positions where you’d like some consistent thump in your bat.  A .685 OPS with a bunch of crazy splits just won’t cut it.  Yeah, when he’s facing lefties on the road (especially in Kansas City), he’s phenomenal!  But, we can’t afford to have Montero be a strict platoon guy.  We didn’t trade for him to play in 1/3 or 1/2 of the games.  We traded for him to play EVERY game, and to play well!  I’ll give him a pass for his first full season, but I hope I don’t have to wait too much longer for his bat to really explode.

Since we gave Seager a passing grade, I’ll give Montero a passing grade.  That gives us 2 out of 4 building blocks who played well.  With Brendan Ryan giving us the best defense in all of baseball (stupid Gold Gloves are STUPID), that rounds out the infield.  Brendan Ryan will give you nothing at the plate, but as long as he’s not counted upon to do anything but bat 9th, I think I’ll take it.

But, what of the outfield?

Well, for starters, we don’t have Ichiro to kick around anymore.  I liked the guy, but I’m glad we traded him and I’m glad he got to go to the playoffs and I’m glad he did really well for the Yankees, but I’m mostly glad the Yankees lost.  Ichiro finished his Mariners career with so many wonderful stats we can look back on fondly.  He will be a Hall of Famer, he will go in as a Mariner, and, you know, WHO KNOWS?  He managed 73 hits in 67 games with the Yankees in the regular season.  He now has 2,606 hits on his career.  And, for fuck’s sake, he’s fucking ICHIRO!  Who’s to say he can’t stick around with some team or another and get the 394 hits he so desperately desires?  I hope he does it!  Just not with the Mariners.  And I hope he gets that World Series Championship!  Just not with the Yankees.

The star of the outfield in 2012 was Michael Saunders.  If you asked me going into 2012, would Michael Saunders be worth a darn, I likely would’ve said, “Heck no!”  Funny thing about baseball, weird shit can happen (see:  Baltimore Orioles, Oakland A’s).  The line:  .247 BA, 31 doubles, 19 homers, 57 RBI, .738 OPS in 553 plate appearances.  OK, so it’s not the best line in the world.  But, when you look at his combined three seasons prior (.196 BA, 17 doubles, 12 homers, 45 RBI, .569 OPS in 635 plate appearances), you can see some real dramatic improvement!

The legend has it, in the offseason between 2011 & 2012, Saunders trained with Josh Bard’s brother (whose first name, legend has it, remains a mystery to all).  They worked on his mechanics, shortened his swing, and lo and be-fucking-hold, a miracle happened!  Saunders managed to stay in the Majors for a full season, and remained productive throughout!

As a centerfielder, you’ll take that line just about every year.  You’d like to see improvement, considering he is so young and everything, but with the defense he provides, you’ll take it.

As a corner outfielder, there’s a little something left to be desired.

I think in an ideal world, if we don’t bring in a bigtime free agent like Josh Hamilton or Nick Swisher, then in 2013 you’d like to see Michael Saunders in left and Franklin Gutierrez in center.  Regardless of who you put in right, you’re looking at one of the better defensive outfields.

But, of course, who can count on that?  I’m talking about Guti, of course.  Who can count on him???  He has to be, by far, the most cursed athlete I’ve ever seen.  Which SUCKS DICK, because he’s one of the greatest defensive outfielders I think I’ve ever seen, Griffey included.  Every time we think Guti has turned a corner, BAM, he hits another brick wall that sidelines him.  He goes from IBS to a pec injury to a concussion from being hit with a baseball on a pick-off move to God knows what else!  Was there a groin or a knee or a shoulder or all three in there somewhere?  I’m pretty sure all that’s left for Guti is Bell’s Palsy, mange, and the fucking gout.  Something to look forward to in 2013.

Aside from Saunders, there was a huge revolving door in 2012.  Including Guti, Casper Wells, Trayvon Robinson, Eric Thames, Mike Carp, Peguero, and just a LITTLE bit of Alex Liddi.  I can’t say much about any of these cats.  Wells looks like a decent 4th outfielder, but the shine wears off quickly when you give him the everyday job.  Thames had some memorable moments, got doused with some shaving cream pies and such, but he’s no solution.  Robinson and Peguero have HUGE holes in their swings, which says nothing of their defensive liabilities (especially Peguero’s).  Carp should probably stay away from the outfield forever, because he’s terrible at it, and because he keeps getting hurt diving for balls he’ll never be able to reach on his own.

For the record, I like Carp, but this strikes me as a numbers game he’s not going to win.  If you can’t plug him in the outfield (which you really, really can’t), then you’ve got to make him a first baseman or a DH.  He was decent defensively at first, but let’s face it, this team has a lot invested in Justin Smoak.  Not only that, but first could also be a home for Montero in the future.  And finally, not for nothing, but I have to think first base is going to be a free agent or a trade priority this offseason we’re in right now.  I like Carp’s bat, but I have a sick feeling he’s going to make good on his promise with another team more willing to give him the everyday first baseman job.  In fact, 2012 could be the last we see of Carp in a Mariners uniform.

As a team, the Mariners were 27th in runs scored in the Major Leagues.  Dead last in the AL by a whopping 48 runs.  However, their 619 runs were 63 better than 2011!  And 106 better than 2010!  Oh, by the by, 619 runs for a season is fucking terrible, regardless of the era we’re in.

The Mariners were also dead last in the AL in batting average with .234.  For the record, Oakland was second-to-last with a .238 average, and they won the entire AL West; so at least there’s some semblance of hope.  Also for the record, .234 was dead last in all of baseball, even worse than Houston (Welcome Astros, 2013!).

And, of course, the Mariners were dead last in the AL in OPS.  By a HUGE margine (.665, next highest was Cleveland with .705).  And, no foolin’, that .665 OPS was also dead last in all of baseball.

Make no mistake, this offense in 2012 was horrible.

On the plus side:  Miguel Olivo’s option was NOT picked up!  He’s gone!  Gone for good!  That’s addition by subtraction if I’ve ever seen it.

On the down side:  there are no other prospects ready for a shot at the big time.  All Major League-ready prospects are up in the Major Leagues.  Unless we wheel and deal like crazy, you can pencil in the following gentlemen:

C – John Jaso (but probably only as a platoon)
1B – Justin Smoak
2B – Dustin Ackley
3B – Kyle Seager
SS – Brendan Ryan
LF – Michael Saunders
CF – Franklin Gutierrez (until he gets injured, then Saunders slides over)
RF – ??
DH – Jesus Montero (with a possibility to play some catcher, but look for this team to bring in a third guy for the catching rotation, hopefully someone who is awesome at defense to round things out a bit in the later innings)

Obviously, this team will have to bring in an outfielder.  More than likely, they’ll have to bring in a couple.  Aside from a backup catcher, I think this team goes hard after either a first or a third baseman.  Nick Swisher is a guy people like because he can play both of the corner outfield spots as well as first base.  That gives a team a lot of flexibility in the event a Guti goes down, or a Smoak sucks cock.  Josh Hamilton is another guy people like because he’s got awesome-a powah.  I’ll reserve my thoughts on these guys and others as the rumor mill gets hotter.  Or if I have nothing else to write about.

For now, what we have is what we have, and what we have isn’t worth a shit.  This offseason needs improvement, it needs it from the batters, and it needs it in spades.

Sometime soon, I’ll finish my Part 2 about the pitchers of 2012.  I swear.

Talkin’ Tacoma Rainiers

I’m not gonna lie to you, this post is more for me than it is for you.  There are tons of other sites (probably) that can give you some real quality Rainiers analysis.  So, go there for the hard-hitting whathaveyou.

If you’re like me, you live in Tacoma and almost never end up getting out to a Rainiers game even though, every year before the season starts, you and your friends talk about “getting out to a few games this summer”.  Then, summer arrives, and you never think to head over to Cheney.

Also, if you’re like me, you find minor league baseball to be an enjoyable experience when you DO go to a game … but you don’t really follow the teams all that closely.  Aside from a few players touted as “up & coming”, you just don’t give too much of a shit.

However, with all the players who’ve made it up to the big ballclub, and with the player or players soon to come, I thought I’d take a look at the Tacoma Rainiers.

The Rainiers currently stand in 3rd place in the Pacific North Division (with a 28-35 record), 9 games behind the first place Reno Aces.  The two teams appear to be pretty comparable in their pitching (Tacoma is 12th in the PCL in ERA, Reno is 13th), but there looks to be a hitting discrepancy (with Reno 2nd in batting average and Tacoma 10th).  Obviously, this doesn’t tell the whole story, because the Rainiers are in the top 5 in both Home Runs and Runs Scored, so really I don’t know what to tell you.

From what I understand, the new park configurations make it tremendously easier to hit home runs to both left and right field (the high center field wall remains from Old Cheney Stadium), which probably explains why Tacoma is so much more improved in their power numbers.  And, why the ERA is so high.

Here’s all you really need to know about the pitching:  just hope and pray that none of the Mariners’ starters get injured.  Luke French – the odd man out of the rotation coming out of Spring Training once Pineda won a spot on the team – has been truly awful this year.  He’s got a 6.16 ERA and has given up 18 home runs in 13 games started.  Chaz Roe – who we got for Jose Lopez in the trade with the Rockies – has a worse ERA and an 0-5 record.  Blake Beavan – who we got in the Cliff Lee Trade – appears to be the best of the three, but his ERA is still 4.76 and he too looks like he’s nowhere near ready to break in with the big club.

The other notable names include Nate Robertson.  He’s been bad thus far, coming back from injury, but he’s only made two starts, so the book is still out on him.  In the bullpen, it looks like Josh Lueke has bounced back nicely with his return to triple-A.  He’s got a 3.33 ERA in 17 appearances.  Dan Cortes, on the other hand, has a 5.21 ERA in 15 appearances.  He’s got good strikeout numbers, but he’s being hit around quite a bit.  In other words, he’s probably a year away at least.

On the hitting side of things, I’m seeing a lot of really good numbers (a testament to the fact that so many of these guys have already been called up).  Dustin Ackley is batting .291 after a horrendous start to the season.  He’s got 9 homers and 16 doubles, and he’s walking considerably more than he’s striking out.  Ackley will be Seattle’s starting second baseman before the month of June is over, I guarantee it.

Other familiar names include Matt Tuiasosopo and Ryan Langerhans.  Tui looks like he’s struggling mightily with his .236 batting average.  Factor in that he’s playing primarily at first base, with his paltry power numbers (7 homers, 10 doubles), and I think you’re looking at a guy who’s not long for this organization.  I anticipate when his contract expires, it will not be renewed.  As for Langerhans, he’s playing just like you’d expect Langerhans to play.  In a pinch, he’ll be back with the Mariners this year (“pinch” being:  multiple injuries to our outfielders).

You might be wondering how Michael Saunders has been doing since being sent down.  Well, in 8 games, he’s batting .343 with 8 RBI, a homer, and a double.  That sounds about right:  kills triple-A pitching, sucks in the Majors.

Mike Wilson, you probably remember (if you were paying attention).  He actually played with the Mariners this year in a blink-and-you’ll-miss it one-month stint.  In that month, he got into 8 games even though we were told that Left Field would be a strict platoon between him and Carlos Peguero.  Granted, we ran into an inordinate number of right-handed pitchers, but still.  I remember some instances where Wilson could’ve pinch hit or something and was instead left riding pine.  I guess he didn’t make enough of an early impression with Wedge.  Anyway, Wilson’s leading the team in batting and has 4 hits in 3 games since being sent back down.

Real quick:  Josh Bard is doing good at catcher (of course, not good enough to be called up because he’s an everyday guy and Gimenez – the Mariners’ current backup catcher – isn’t an everyday guy); Matt Mangini is also doing good, but he’s coming back from injury.  Alex Liddi still has some major power at the third base position – something the Mariners are SORELY lacking – but he’s remarkably struck out 81 times in 61 games.  So, he’s still got some seasoning to do.

All in all, it’s nice to see there’s some talent down in Tacoma, but aside from Ackley, I don’t think there’s too many guys left down there who you’d want to count on with the Mariners.  However, if you’re looking to go see an entertaining, high-scoring ballgame (something you won’t get in Seattle), based on these numbers I would highly recommend going to a Rainiers game.

I REALLY gotta get out to a few games this summer.

Seattle Mariners 2011 Preview, Part 2: The Hitters

It’s a preview, so I could easily bang this post out in my sleep (the only real requirement involves Being Totally & Completely Wrong).  But, I read this little number from Larry Stone yesterday, and I couldn’t resist playing Copycat.  For the record, Stone is MUCH more forgiving than I am (one would think it’d be the opposite, with the fan (me) figuring out ways as to how this squad will be a MILLION times better than last year’s, but I digress).

Let’s start with the Catcher position:

Olivo/Moore vs. Moore/Bard/Rob Johnson.  This looks to be no contest in favor of 2011’s tandem.  Rob Johnson was a waste of fucking life, Bard is no better than any other aging career backup (a.k.a. Rob Johnson in five years), and Moore briefly started to get things going, then he got hurt and never recovered.  Olivo looks to be better than all of them combined, but then again what is that really saying about our 2010 catchers?  At best, he’s top 2 in team OPS (again, what is THAT really saying about our team as a whole?); at worst he’s a Jose Lopez-like drain smack dab in the middle of the order.  The horror.

Nevertheless, give the nod to 2011.  I may have complained about the signing when it happened, but he’s going to be a crucial part of our success (or failure) this season, so I better get used to Miguel Olivo.

First base:

Smoak vs. Kotchman/Smoak.  Stone gave the edge here to 2011, but I’m holding the damn phone.  While I will TOTALLY grant you that this position couldn’t POSSIBLY get any worse (unless it were the DH position of a year ago), I’m still not so sold on Smoak.  He’s going to have to prove it to me.  Because if he comes out struggling (for whatever excuse you want to give:  pressing too much, trying too hard, wanting to do too much, not staying within himself), he’s likely going to be benched and probably even sent down to Tacoma to “work on his swing”, whatever that means.  Struggling begets struggling in this game, and if struggling leads to Smoak turning into Adam Kennedy, we’re going to WISH we still had Casey Kotchman to kick around.

Ergo, I’m saying this is Even and giving the edge to no one until Justin Smoak shows me otherwise.

Second Base:

Jack Wilson/Dustin Ackley vs. Figgins.  Stone gave the edge to 2010, mostly based upon a marginally torrid second half out of Figgy.  When “.286 after the All Star Break” is the barometer you’ve set for success, you know you’re gonna have a bad time.  Personally, I like Jack Wilson.  Yes he gets a bad rap for always getting injured (probably because he’s always getting injured), but when he’s healthy I think he’s quite effective!  I mean, he’s no Luis Sojo, but the guy has been known to get hot at the plate every once in a while.  Of course, he’s also been known to get equally as cold, but that’s neither here nor there.  I like Jack’s bat a helluva lot more than I like Josh Wilson’s, and I might even like it even more than Brendan Ryan’s.  As for Ackley, I think it’s a foregone conclusion he takes over second base for good, once the Mariners are officially 20 games out of first place (a.k.a. sometime in Early June).  But, that doesn’t mean I’m necessarily sold on Ackley The Rookie coming in and dominating.  You know how I feel about rookies.  Yes, I think they should get the most playing time on bad teams to show what they can do, but no, I don’t think they should be counted on to produce like All Stars.

I’m calling this one Even as well.  I think Jack Wilson’s first half will be close to equal to Figgins’ second half last year; and I think Ackley’s second half will be close to equal to Figgins’ first half last year.

Short Stop:

Brendan Ryan vs. Wilson/Wilson.  I was going to make this a trifecta of Infield Evens, but I think Stone convinced me to give the edge to 2011.  Look, Josh Wilson’s a likeable guy, and he filled in admirably last year (especially on the defensive side of things; we never missed a beat with the glovework between the two Wilsons), but he’s more Mascot or Team Pet than he is a Major League ballplayer.  Brendan Ryan is a Major League ballplayer.  No, I don’t expect him to set Safeco Field’s fences on fire with all his doubles power, but he’s got to be worth more than an injury-plagued Wilson and a singles-slapping Wilson.

Advantage 2011, but just BARELY.

Third Base:

Figgins vs. Lopez.  The theme of 2011, what everyone is banking on is:  It Can’t Get Any Worse.  So many players last year were at their absolute worst, including Bradley, Lopez, Kotchman, Griffey, and yes, Figgins.  Most of those players are no longer with the team; ALL of those players were priced to move for any trusting club to take off of our hands.  BUT, Figgins remains.  And I’ll go ahead and bite:  Figgins COULDN’T POSSIBLY be any worse than he was in 2010.  Unless you think his career is over, and I don’t.  NOT because of his “hot” second half last year, but because he’s had these anomaly-type seasons before and has always bounced back.  I’ll even go so far as to believe the switch back to third base will be beneficial.  But, there’s no way he’s done.  I’m going to leave it in the hands of Faith on this one.

Lopez, meanwhile, is done.  Just ask the Colorado Rockies.  Advantage 2011.

Left Field:

Bradley/Saunders vs. Bradley/Saunders.  I’m tweaking this from Stone’s version, as I believe Saunders will eventually stick in Left Field.  Something tells me he’s going to turn it on this year at the plate.  I do agree with Stone that (like third base), we couldn’t possibly do any worse, but there’s no way Bradley survives a full season of playing in the field.  SOMEONE else will force a platoon, and why not Saunders?  In 2010, he finally showed a little of that power he’s always had; now, if he can just manage to get a hit in better than 1/5 of his at bats, we just might have something here.

To 2011!  To Michael Saunders realizing his full potential (finally)!

Center Field:

Guti vs. Guti.  Stone has the edge to 2010 based solely on the fact that we don’t know what’s wrong with Guti’s stomach and we don’t know how long it’s going to keep him out.  I agree wholeheartedly that this is of utmost concern – in fact, it might be the biggest story of the season that no one is really talking about.  What if they NEVER find out what’s wrong with Guti?  What if he tries to eventually play through the pain only to struggle like he did last year?  Guti is a core guy!  He’s a building block to what’s supposed to be a winning ball club (in a few years)!  We NEED this guy!

I’m calling this a Draw based on the simple fact that I’m going to be optimistic in this one instance.  Guti started strong, then faded badly in 2010; I’m banking on the reverse this year.

Right Field:

Ichiro vs. Ichiro.  How could this NOT be even.  Stone and I are of the same mind here.  Give the man 200 hits and a Gold Glove and GET THE HELL OUT OF HIS WAY!

Designated Hitter:

Cust vs. Branyan/Griffey/Sweeney.  Stone likes Cust.  I like EVEN!  Essentially, Cust IS Branyan, except without the pure power.  I believe if you took 2010 Branyan, played him all year at DH with the 2010 Mariners, they would have almost identical lines except Branyan would have a few more homers than 2011 Cust.  Yes, Griffey was complete and total dead weight, but don’t forget Sweeney was a man possessed when he finally got the nod (and before he went down with back spasms).  Sweeney, in his month of terror, was better than every hitter except for Ichiro last year.  Man, I miss Sweeney.  I miss the hugs!

I like Cust, but I don’t like him THAT much.  And I think his strikeouts will start to outweigh his power and his walks over the course of a full season.  Even Steven.

Overall, my impressions aren’t great, but they’re equal to or better than 2010 across the board.  Mostly going on faith in this one.  I’m going to trust Olivo has enough pop to make up for what Lopez was SUPPOSED to give us last year.  I’m going to assume Figgins will return to glory and Bradley will … not fall below the Mendoza Line once and for all.  I’m going to go out on a limb and hope for progress out of Smoak and Saunders, and I’m going to pray to the Pepto gods that Guti gets over whatever it is he’s got.  I’m going to perish the thought of Ichiro finally starting to show his age, and finally I’m going to not expect too much out of our middle infielders (and accordingly be pleasantly surprised).

Do I think we will be better?  Compared to what?  The sheer abomination that was 2010?  We were LITERALLY the worst hitting ballclub in the modern era!  How could we NOT be better?

Well, let’s see.  Maybe Ichiro’s bat speed takes a dive and he hits .240.  Suddenly, he’s not legging out those infield singles anymore and what little power he had completely vanishes.  Smoak and Saunders continue to struggle, putting them mere steps away from being out of baseball.  Miguel Olivo is our home run leader with 16.  Jack Cust turns into Richie Sexson-heavy.  Jack Wilson gets injured in May and Adam Kennedy is Eric Byrnes Redux.  Brendan Ryan remains Brendan Ryan; Milton Bradley remains Milton Bradley.  Chone Figgins discovers he’s got the full blown Mariners Curse.  Franklin Gutierrez never fully recovers from his stomach ailment.  And with a rash of constant injuries beleaguering our lineup from top to bottom, we’re forced to play a bunch of AAA guys who seriously are NOT ready for Prime Time.

I guess that’s how we could be worse.  Dear God I hope we’re not worse.

And I don’t REALLY think we will be.  But, that doesn’t mean I believe we’ll be all that much better.  I wish I knew what amount of wins it would take to guarantee that Jackie Z keeps his job, because I want to see what he can do next winter when he’s actually got some money to throw around.  Does it even matter?  Is 70 the magic number?  Is it 75?  Or is it simply NOT losing another 100 games while showing marginal improvement from the guys who are believed to be the Future of the Franchise?

I hope it’s that.  Because I think that’s something we can actually accomplish.  There’s a lot to like with what Z is doing for our farm system.  We’ve improved tremendously since he got here AND we have the Number 2 pick in the upcoming MLB Draft.  That’s another rising star not long for the minors.

I’m getting off topic here.  Do I think we’re better?  Yes, but not by much.  The outfield is exactly the same as last year.  Exactly.  The infield is basically the same as it was for the second half of last year, just shuffled around a bit.  Brendan Ryan is pretty much the same type of power threat as Jose Lopez was in his underperforming last season.  Cust is Branyan, meaning our only real improvement is Olivo over Rob Johnson/Josh Bard.  We’re 1 man better (with a lot of hoping and praying that everyone else who did poorly last year improves).  That should amount to more overall wins, but not many.

Record Prediction:  65-97.  AL West Finish:  4th Place.  Draft Pick in 2012:  4.

A Paragraph With The Mariners – 128

At this point, I basically have three goals for this team the rest of the way:  1. play the youngsters; 2. don’t get Felix injured; and 3. don’t embarrass the organization more than you’re already doing.  This is already a team that’s going down as one of (if not THE) worst-scoring offenses ever fielded in the Major Leagues, but we can’t do much of anything about that at this point (except, I guess, average 10-15 runs per game for the month of September).  What we CAN do, though, is not get no-hit by anyone, especially the likes of Nick Blackburn.  As it stands, I don’t think there was much of a threat today, but still:  he 2-hit us, over 8.2 innings.  Nick Blackburn is a guy who has an ERA over 6 in 20 games this year.  He’s got a career ERA over 4.5 in 92 games.  This is NOT a guy who should be no-hitting ANYONE.  Nick Blackburn is a guy most teams manage to score on, in fact.  Except the Mariners.  Christ.  Now you see why I was so happy when Josh Bard broke up Lackey’s no-hitter earlier this year.  We’re already going to be in the record books for futility; don’t go making it worse by letting D-bags experience the Greatest Moment Of Their Lives!

A Paragraph With The Mariners – 115

Josh Bard has got my vote for Man Of The Year.  First, he breaks up John Lackey’s no-hit bid, and now as of the minute I’m writing this in the top of the 5th inning with 2 outs, he’s 3 for 3 with a double and a Grand Slam to break this shit open 7-2.  Anyway, I tried to look up and see how many Grand Slams the M’s have hit this year (I can only remember the Jose Lopez slam off of Putz and maybe one other by Alfonzo?), but apparently that’s not a stat people like to keep track of.  Anyway, Josh Bard!  I think he’s pretty much the perfect backup catcher:  left-handed, has some pop, doesn’t seem to mind not playing everyday, doesn’t seem to let that lack of playing time turn into rust.  And he has 10 RBI on the season now, which is a third of Ichiro’s season total (you know, our everyday right fielder).  In other news, Milton Bradley’s season is done as he’s having surgery on his knee.  Still better than Carlos Silva.

The Down & Up & Down Game @ Safeco Field

I would be remiss if I didn’t give THIS game its own post. Especially since I was there and watched nearly all of it.

This game was a joke from the beginning. I knew it, everyone there knew it. I wasn’t taking our chances seriously one bit when I saw Ryan Rowland-Smith vs. John Lackey. No, Lackey isn’t any kind of prize pig, but RRS … against this Red Sox offense … YEEESH.

So, really, it was no surprise that we were down 6-1 in short order. RRS went 6 innings, gave up 5. The bullpen guys came in and – aside from a solo homer in the 7th – pretty much did an amazing job for once. Jamey Wright even went THREE shutout innings! All that aside, this was a pretty standard Mariners game from the first to the eighth.

Except, of course, even with the terribleness of this Mariners offense, you never expect them to get No Hit by the likes of fucking John Lackey. He gave up a run early by giving up a walk, a stolen base, a fielder’s choice, and a passed ball. In the 3rd inning, when we were down 3-1, I mentioned to Nate – mostly as a lark – “We could still be no-hit here.”

Little did I know that into the 8th inning, there we’d be, STILL being no-hit by fucking John Lackey. Oh how I HATE John Lackey, the overpaid son of a bitch. He’s the Barry Zito of the American League and I hope he rots in hell over in Beantown.

I JUMPED for joy as Josh Bard of all people broke up the no-no with a sharp single into Right Center! I clapped not a bit for the pitcher who just lost his bid. I was giddy for the game to end so I could come on here and rub it in Lackey’s face.

Little did I know.

The Sox brought in Manny Delcarmen, as Lackey was already well over 100 pitches after the 8th. This game was all ready to be signed, sealed, and delivered as your Average 2010 Mariners Game. He promptly went and let Figgins get on, then gave up a 2-run homer to Guti. That made it 6-3. THEN, he walked Jose Lopez and saw Milton Bradley reach on an error from the shortstop that could’ve conceivably turned two.

From there, he was pulled in favor of the closer, Ron Crapplebon. Who we hate. As rational and understanding human beings, because he’s a douche.

There was Kotchman’s double to make it 6-4 with runners on 2nd and 3rd. Then the hero of the day Josh Bard drew a tough walk to load ’em up. THEN, with one out, Jack Wilson came to the plate. He bounced one to short, who dumped it to Bill Hall at 2nd for the 2nd out, but the throw to first went wide and two more runs scored to tie it up! Ichiro was walked intentionally, and Figgins couldn’t bring home the win. So we went to extras.

From here, it looked EXACTLY like your Average 2010 Mariners Game. Good pitching for a bit, no hitting, loading the bases with less than 2 out in the 12th and failing to get the run in thank you Jose Lopez I hope you die. Finally, they brought in Garrett Olson, and I knew it was only a matter of time. He would be in there for the long haul, until we started letting reserve players pitch. He managed to go 1 scoreless inning, but couldn’t go two.

The Red Sox scored 2 runs in the top of the 13th with a double to left center. Immediately after, I got up to leave the stadium.

Good game though. Biggest 9th Inning Comeback in Mariners History. Had Terrace Club seats courtesy of Nate Myles Long. A night that was supposed to be a 2.5 hour lopsided Mariners loss turned into one of the more memorable games I’ll probably ever see. And, to be able to say that John Lackey went from No-Hitter to No-Decision just made it all the better.

A Paragraph With The Mariners – 48

The DL Days are hitting us pretty hard. Not only has Mark Lowe been M.I.A. for practically the entire season (thereby killing our bullpen effectiveness) with a back injury that probably won’t abate until September if at all this season, but Douglas Fister has a case of the Dead Arm that’s taken him out of commission for the last two or three starts. And NOW, Mr. Mike Sweeney is down for two weeks with a bum back (more of a chronic, lingering situation compared to Lowe’s absolute massacre). Then, of course, there’s Adam Moore and Josh Bard – two catchers who weren’t lighting the world on fire, but were showing a helluva lot more promise both catching and hitting balls compared to (we built this hitting on) Rob John-son. And I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up Jack Wilson’s longer-than-expected stint in rehab for whatever it is that’s ailing him (I think it’s a shoulder or a hamstring or something). That one’s actually killed us the least, as Josh Wilson (the last time I bothered to check) is hitting around .300 and flashing some solid glove at short. It’s too bad, though, because more or less these are all players I enjoy watching. It just goes to show the tried and true theory that the players you loathe always seem to remain healthy & sucking. Sean White, Rob Johnson, Casey Kotchman, Ian Snell: pictures of health all.

A Paragraph With The Mariners – 37

Well I don’t know WHAT to say. Except I DO know what to say and it’s: I fucking told you so! Mike Sweeney, give the man some A-motherfuckin’-B’s and see what the motherfuck he can do! So, what did he do? How about 4-5 with TWO home runs and SIX runs batted in en route to a 15-8 win over the Padres (exsqueeze me? baking powder?). Yes, the Mariners truly lubed up their batting hands and had me coming all night long with that onslaught we will most likely never see again this season. In a game where Cliff Lee looked pretty average in just throwing anything that would get him into the 7th inning, where all the position players except for Lopez got at least 1 hit, where Bradley continued his Post-Rehab recovery with 3 hits, and where Josh Bard became our new starting catcher because he actually flashed some semblance of a pulse with a home run and a double. If last night happened 3 weeks ago in Cliff Lee’s first start (the one we blew in Extra Innings because Eric Byrnes is a choad), I’m convinced we wouldn’t have fallen in that bleak and irreversable tailspin we’ve been in SINCE that night 3 weeks ago. Call it a breath of fresh air, call it the lineup taking out their frustrations on the Padres, call it a load off of everyone’s minds, just cross your fingers and hope that we take this with us through the rest of the season. I don’t want to give up the ghost in May, I really don’t.

A Paragraph With The Mariners – 33

The ArMAYgeddon is upon us. We are 2-5 on this particular road trip with one left today; we were 1-7 in the homestand this month, meaning that 11-12 April preceded a 3-12 May. There are 12 games left. Realistically, I’m predicting we go 4-8. Realistically, if we expect to contend for the rest of this season, we need to go 10-2 (including winning this game against Oakland and the 3-game road trip to Anaheim Los Angeles). All division games from here on out are going to be HUGE. By the way, last night Griffey was in the lineup as DH (vs. a left-handed pitcher) batting fifth. That means, according to our manager, Ken Griffey Jr. of 2010 was better than 4 of the bats in our lineup last night. Obviously, you can’t consider me the biggest Josh Bard fan in the world; and Tui and Josh Wilson are destined to be career backups … but what does that say about Casey Kotchman? Has he really fallen so out of favor? Remember what it was like to be 1-0? Then, remember how we lost the next two games in heartbreaking fashion? People like to say games in April don’t mean anything; but I’ve found that how your first series of the year ends up dictates how the rest of your season is going to go. Apparently, we’ve lost 11 games in the other team’s last at-bat.