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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.

April 25, 2013 at 8:47 AM

That vaunted clubhouse chemistry will now be tested by the Mariners

Photo by Associated Press

Photo by Associated Press

In a Monday blog post, in the wake of the Mariners’ three-game sweep to the Rangers, I wrote: “The Mariners start a three-game series with the Astros in Houston tonight. If you think things are tense now, watch what happens if they lose this series, too.”

The Mariners won the opener, behind Felix Hernandez, then dropped the next two — the second time in as many weeks they’ve lost a series to the ostensibly pushover Astros. So, I got to watch what happened, and it was exactly what I expected: A veritable explosion of Mariner hostility. My Twitter feed blew up, my inbox was flooded with “fire Wedge, fire Zduriencik” and the ever-popular “fire Chuck and Howard” emails and voicemails.

And the frustration is perfectly justified, as is the anger. The “it’s still early” refrain is irrelevant, because this is really a reaction not just to the poor start in 2013, but to the endless succession of demoralizing seasons. Also to the sense of, well, betrayal that this year, billed as being different, as being the turning point toward a new winning era, has just produced more of the same deficiencies that have plagued the Mariners season after season.

But, yes, it really is still early. Too early, at least, to fire the manager or general manager just three weeks in, though every seat at the corner of Edgar Martinez Drive and Dave Niehaus Way should be piping hot. Especially the ones of the two highest-ranking officials, the ones who have been the only consistent presence through the 10-year decline and fall of the organization, the seemingly impenetrable Chuck Armstrong and Howard Lincoln. But it’s not too soon to see the very real danger of a total collapse, the kind witnessed here in both 2008 and 2010 (years which both began with the same kind of as-yet misguided optimism that marked the onset of 2013, and which both ended with 101 losses).

But, as gloomy as it seems now, that doesn’t have to be a fait accompli. It’s April 25. The season still has more than five months remaining. Get hot, and the Mariners can still change the narrative of this year. But they are obviously at a very vulnerable point in the season. If you believe, like Dave Cameron, that they are doomed by poor roster construction to have a dire season, then it’s not too early to be fatalistic. But if you believe, like I do, that there is still the semblance of a decent team lurking within the wreckage, then one key is for them to not disintegrate internally, as happened in both 2008 and 2010.

In both seasons, the clubhouses were hopelessly and toxically fractured — an outcome that undeniably was exacerbated by the stress and strain of losing consistently. One of the strengths of this year’s team, extolled all spring by Wedge, was the attitude, cohesiveness and camaraderie.

Here’s what he said in spring training:

“I’m excited to see the dynamic in the locker room, and excited to see how it translates to the field. The conversation is so good. The relationships are so good. I’m not looking for a bunch of choir boys, but I am looking for baseball players that understand what it takes to win. I think we have a lot of young people that are in the middle of learning what that means, and we have some veterans here now that understand and know what that means.”

And, lifted from a column I wrote that appeared on Opening Day, here’s what he said when I asked him to assess his mood heading into his third season with the Mariners:

“I think we have a great clubhouse working out there. How the young kids continue to evolve, and the veteran players coming in here and what they’ve added. It’s been a great dynamic out there. I’m just looking for that to carry over into the regular season.

“We’ll see how things play out early on and make whatever adjustments we need to make, but I think what you’re seeing in the clubhouse out there is real, and we’ve filled some holes we felt we needed to fill. Not just from a tangible standpoint, but for the intangibles, and I think that’s worked out well.”

It’s easy to have great conversations and a great dynamic when you’re ripping the ball in Arizona, and when your record is 0-0. Now is when that great clubhouse is going to be put to the test. If the Mariners can stay together long enough to pull out of their collective slump, and eventually get some reinforcements from the minor leagues, perhaps they have a chance to still salvage this season.

 

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