Following the ridiculous 6-5 loss to Baltimore on Thursday, I was listening to Brock and Salk on 710 ESPN, and Dave Cameron from USSM was on the show. Cameron said the pre-season likelihood that the M’s would have finished the first 34 games at 13-21, would have been about 7-10%. This number is not a scientific fact, but anyone who knows a thing about baseball can look at the roster Seattle assembled, paired with the weak division they play in, and conclude that a 13-21 start would have been tough to imagine. Is this the worst case scenario? Well, of course it’s not the absolute worst case. That would be a winless team with multiple injured starters, a manager soon to be fired, and a clubhouse that is fist fighting. But this is pretty close to the worst possible scenario I could have thought up back in March. Here are 5 reasons why the M’s are where they are. (And sorry, this gets a little lengthy)
1) Bad luck (aka sucking in crunch time)
Last year, the M’s made hay in 1-run games. Despite giving up more runs than they scored, the M’s won 85 games, which by most standards, was an anomaly. The odd that Seattle could have racked up 85 W’s last year was slim when the year began. It was a pleasure seeing my team hang on in close games and show grit time and time again. This year, the Gods have not been so kind in similar games. In fact, in 9 of Seattle’s 21 losses, the M’s either led or were tied going into the eighth inning. That is a staggering result. If the Mariners could have won even just 4 of those 9 games, we would be talking about a 17-17 team heading into the Tampa series. The worst part is that in most cases, one minor miscue has been the difference between a win and a loss. The Byrnes whiffed bunt. The Johnson passed balls. The poor execution of bases loaded in extra innings. Those are the type of missed opportunities that has defined this team through 35 games. If you care to look at just how those 9 gut wrenching games played out, take a look at the quick summaries Shannon Drayer put together-http://www.mynorthwest.com/category/mariners_blog_articles/20100513/Too-Many-Tough-Losses
2) Slow start offense
In addition to the close losses, the Mariners are not hitting. Figgins, Kotchman, Griffey, Lopez, Bradley, Moore, Johnson and Jack Wilson are all off to slow starts. Typically you assume a few regulars will start slow, but it’s hard to win when all but 2 starters are hitting around .200 or lower. The offense is without a doubt the biggest reason the M’s are sitting where they are.
3) The Bullpen
The Mariners have a solid bullpen. I’d bet as many as 4 of our relievers could be closers on some major league teams. But despite good overall stats, some untimely blow ups have resulted in numerous losses. Lowe, League and Aardsma have combined to give up 6 home runs. That’s not the astounding number though, as 6 home runs between 3 relievers in mid-May is not unreasonable. What is astounding is that all 6 of those home runs were either game tiers or game winners, and all came in the 8th or 9th innings. Ouch. Often times home runs are not all the pitchers fault, because even perfectly executed pitches can be hit 400 feet by major league hitters. A lot of the bullpen’s failures are just plain bad luck. That’s just baseball. The bullpen is not a major concern for this team.
4) Off the field issues
The Bradley fiasco and the Griffey nap have been the two biggest off the field incidents thus far. The Milton thing was almost to be expected, considering his past, while the Griffey thing has snowballed from a minor issue to headlines on ESPN. That whole thing is just weird. You could include injuries in this category I suppose, to Cliff Lee, Mark Lowe, and Jack Wilson.
The problem with this team is similar to the problem with my golf game. If I’m driving and putting well, my irons and chipping are failing me. If my short game is on, my drives are erratic. For the Mariners, the offense, starting pitching, and defense was great on Thursday. The bullpen was not, and so despite playing well in 3 out of 4 facets of the game, that one poor area bit us hard. It seems like that’s how it has gone all year. We just can’t play well in all aspects, and even when we play well in 2 or 3 areas, the 1 that we suck at ends up costing us the game.
Reason for hope after the jump!
Contrary to what some may say, the season is not over. When listening to sports radio, it’s clear that some Mariners fans have packed it. In Seattle, it’s easy to think this way, and I don’t blame the fan that is frustrated by this team and their heart wrenching losses. Trust me, I’m one of those fans. But it’s May 15th. The M’s are 5.5 games back, not 12, 15, or 20. At some point, if things continue at this pace, you go into sell mode and focus on next year. The odds are greater that we become sellers in July rather than buyers. But July is still 7 weeks away, and in baseball, losing or winning streaks of 8-10 games can happen in a flash, as we just witnessed last week. With the stellar pitching, weak division, and dormant bats that are sure to wake up at some point, coupled with a little good luck for a change, this team could real off a nice winning streak. Is it likely? Maybe not. But as a fan, you have to hope for it, and not write a year off in May, when the division leader is still within shouting distance.
From a value perspective it doesn’t make sense to start unloading veterans right now, and begin plans for 2011. That conversation should not occur until June or July, when the trade dominoes start falling, and contending teams begin over paying for rental players. Texas may be on the verge of running away from this division, but as with any team, a couple bad bounces or an injury here and there, and suddenly a losing streak has formed. Just yesterday, the Rangers gave up 16 runs, and today they already lost again. It’s just two games, but could Texas’ pitching fail them yet again come summer time? Of course.
This team has major flaws, and it would not surprise me if it only won 75 games this year. We keep saying the bats will wake up, and I’m certain they will, but for all we know our starting pitching could start sucking just as the bats get hot. I’m as frustrated as anyone about this team, and hindsight is showing that the M’s should not have retained Griffey, and instead should have made a run at Guerrero or someone else. But this is the team we have, and this is the team I root for. Who knows, maybe a month from now I can write about 5 reasons the M’s were able to turn it around. Here’s to hoping. Cheers.