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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

October 15, 2012 at 1:39 PM

Random thoughts from a great week of playoff baseball

swisher.jpg

(Nick Swisher reacts after striking out against the Orioles in the ALDS. Photo by Getty Images).

The best part about taking a week of vacation was the opportunity to plop down in my favorite chair and watch most of the postseason games. What a fantastic week of baseball. Remember how we all gushed about the final day of the 2011 season, when three vital games, each with playoff implications, went down to the wire simultaneously? Well, how about a whole week of that kind of drama?

That’s exactly what we had with the wild-card games and the division series, which featured six, count ’em six, winner-take-all games, and 12 potential elmination games, as all four division series went the distance.

Two things struck me, amidst all the fantastic endings and memorable moments. One, I’m sure, was shared by most readers of this blog: How long it has been since the Mariners have been involved in the postseason, and how living vicariously through other teams (and through ex-Mariners such as Ichiro, Raul Ibanez, Mike Morse and Doug Fister) takes you only so far. The longer the Mariners stay in the second division (in the last nine years, they’ve finished closer than 12 games out of first place just once — and in 2007, when they finished six out, they were effectively out of contention for most of September), the more frustrating it is to think about the absence of meaningful second-half games involving Seattle. Especially playoff games.

The other thought is that so often making the playoffs is no guarantee that your season will have a feel-good ending. I’ll bet teams like the Nationals (who blew a 6-0 lead, and a two-run ninth inning lead, to the Cardinals in the decisive fifth game), the Reds (who lost three straight at home to the Giants after winning the first two on the road) and the Rangers (who lost their wild-card game to the Orioles after collapsing down the stretch) will have a far more painful off-season than most, if not all, the teams that were on the outside looking in. Just ask the 2011 Rangers how cruel an ill-fated playoff finish can be. I guarantee you every member of that team will go to his grave haunted by that World Series loss to the Cardinals.

Here are a few other random thoughts inspired by the past week:

–With all the talk about Nick Swisher being a perfect target for the Mariners, I found his griping about the abuse he took from the fans in the right-field bleachers to be very interesting. When I was in New York with the Mariners in August, there seemed to be a love affair between those bleacher fans and Swisher, who each night gave them a snappy salute in the first inning during their roll call of players. But now Swisher is offended by the way they treated him after he botched a line drive (which he says he lost in the lights), while he’s in the midst of a terrible slump.

“The last thing I ever thought in this ballpark was that people would get on me that bad,” Swisher told the Newark Star-Ledger. “Especailly at home, where your heart is, where you’ve been battling and grinding all year long. You never want to be in that spot. It hurts. Sometimes I’m a sensitive guy and some of the things people say get under your skin.”

Yes, Yankee dollars can assuage a lot of hurt feelings, but I’ve got to think that the bad taste left from this incident (especially if the Yankees don’t make it back from Detroit) will make it more likely that Swisher, a pending free agent, signs elsewhere. And as Dave Cameron and others have pointed out, he’s an intriguing candidate for the Mariners because of his ability to not only play right field, but also first base as a hedge against another Justin Smoak backslide. One thing that stands out to me about the switch-hitting Swisher is that in 45 career games, and 201 plate appearances, at Safeco Field, he has put up a .287/.375/.538 line for a .913 OPS, with 11 homers and 29 RBIs. Fairly small sample size, but compare that to another available free agent, Josh Hamilton, who is .224/.338/.408 (.748 OPS) with six homers and 17 RBIs in 34 games, and 148 plate appearances, at Safeco. The re-aligned Safeco fences should make the ballpark only more appealing to Swisher.

Robinson Cano’s postseason slump is bad news for, of all people, Dan Wilson. The popular Mariners’ catcher holds the major-league record with 42 consecutive hitless at-bats in the postseason, a streak which included the 1995, 1997 and 2000 postseasons. Cano’s current futility has sent reporters scurrying to the record book, causing Wilson’s mark to get renewed attention.

Cano is hitless in 26 straight at-bats, the record for one postseason. Wilson’s streak finally ended with a single in the Mariners’ 9-7 loss to the Yankees in Game 6 of the 2000 ALCS, the game that ended Seattle’s season. Wilson was promptly doubled off first on a hit-and-run play when Stan Javierhit a liner right at shortstop Derek Jeter.

–I know some people are frustrated by Ichiro’s resurgence with the Yankees, wondering where all that offense was with Seattle. He hit .261/.288/.353 in 95 games with the Mariners, then .322/.340/.454 in 67 games with the Yankees after the trade. Ichiro stole 15 bases with the Mariners, for whom he had 402 plate appearances, and 14 with the Yankees in 227 plate appearances. I don’t find it surprising, or troubling, that Ichiro was re-invigorated by being in a pennant race in a lineup that wasn’t relying so heavily on him.

Oh, and so much to the theory that Ichiro’s presence was going to bring down the Yankees. The Yankees closed the season by winning 19 of their final 27 games to hold off the Orioles, then knocked the Orioles out of the playoffs in a great five-game series. Last year’s Yankees team, sans Ichiro, lost Game 5 of the ALDS to Detroit. This year, Ichiro drove in a key run in their decisive 3-1 win over the Orioles.

–Speaking of teams that are on the outside looking in (which we were, a few paragraphs ago), the Rays and Angels have to be scratching their heads. The Rays won 90 games. The Angels won 89. And they could be watching a World Series between two teams that won 88 games — the Cardinals and Tigers.

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