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Daily coverage of the Mariners during the season and all year long.

April 12, 2007 at 10:16 AM

Felix and four days of prayer

Sitting here in Seattle like the rest of you hoping the Mariners manage to get this game in against the Red Sox today. Anyone who read today’s paper knows what a great job Larry Stone did last night in writing not just a game story, but a column and a notebook as well. Makes yours truly look a little lazy, so I thought I’d chip in with this blog and let Larry grab a little lunch in Beantown before today’s game. If you read Larry’s notebook item today, you know how important it is that the Mariners play today and not have another makeup date against a team they aren’t scheduled to visit again.
I mean, this makeup game stuff could severely derail Seattle’s season. It isn’t funny. A team needs off-days and right now, unless they play a slew of doubleheaders, the Mariners aren’t going to get many respites. They’ve got to get this game in today and we all know how well the team plays in lousy weather without Felix Hernandez on the mound.
Another thing that could derail the season for Seattle? A serious inability to pitch and hit. I’ll reserve complete judgement for a few more weeks, but the early returns on the team’s off-season investments are not encouraging. We’ll give them some benefit of the doubt because that weekend snow wipeout is going to take some time for individual hitters and pitchers to recover from.
But a glance at AL team statistics finds the Mariners dead last in on-base percentage at .228. What’s that? .228! Whoa there. That’s beyond terrible. Nearly 70 points lower than the Royals and Orioles, the next closest in terms of futility. It doesn’t even include last Friday’s debacle in Cleveland, when the Mariners came within one pitch of being no-hit.
Why such a low OBP? Well, it doesn’t help that the team has drawn only seven walks in five games. That’s only 1.4 free passes per contest. As good as Hernandez looked last night, even he still walked two batters. So, drawing 1.4 walks per contest isn’t going to cut it. And do you know what? The Mariners don’t get a Mulligan on that from me, because this is a pattern the team has shown before. The Cleveland Indians, having played the same five games as Seattle, have already drawn 26 walks — nearly four times what the Mariners have done. The next worst walk-rate in the AL is 2.4 by the Royals — a full walk per game higher than Seattle.
If you aren’t going to draw walks, then you have to hit. And the Mariners haven’t done that either. They are averaging just under six hits per game, also the lowest number in the league.
Yes, the sample size is very small at only five games. But here’s the thing. This team doesn’t have all year to get its act together. The fact that Seattle has managed a 3-2 record to this point is cause for celebration because in my view, this is a squad poised to go off the proverbial cliff.
Take away the two strongest pitching performances of the year from any team so far, both by Hernandez, and add another pitch to Friday’s contest and this team is a very unconvincing 1-5. The run support for Hernandez so far was two in the opener and three last night. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve personally witnessed the Red Sox lose a game at Fenway by allowing only three runs. And I covered the AL East for nine years!
The truth is, with what I’ve seen follow Hernandez in the rotation so far, the Mariners will need to score a whole lot more to prevail on most nights. Jarrod Washburn turned in an adequate performance against an A’s team that isn’t setting anyone’s house on fire offensively. But the rest has been terrible. All of the starters, Washburn included, have thrown too many pitches too early. That has been a factor plaguing Miguel Batista throughout his career, so he has to show me something before I’ll change my mind on him.
Jeff Weaver had a nice run in the post-season for a National League team last year and then shut down the Detroit Tigers in frigid weather that doesn’t exactly lend itself to power hitting. But the rest of 2006 and his 2007 pre-season and opener have told a different story. We’ll give him a few more starts before declaring his signing a mistake — don’t forget, Cha Seung Baek could be doing the same thing for about $8 million less — but the first five weeks of Weaver’s pre-season and regular season tenure with Seattle have not been encouraging.
Horacio Ramirez? He looked awful in Cleveland. We can blame the weather for it, but he won’t get the luxury of facing a pitcher every three innings in the AL and will have to show better command. Walking six batters in four innings probably won’t happen if it’s warmer, but so far, like the four other guys not named Hernandez, he throws too many pitches, too often.
The performance by Hernandez last night helped bump the Mariners up to the second worst team ERA in the AL at 5.32. Tampa Bay is now the worst at 6.91, which should surprise nobody. But it is still somewhat miraculous to see Seattle with a winning record despite the worst hitting and second-worst pitching numbers in the league. This is not going to last, folks. Hernandez can only pitch every five days.
Take away Hernandez’s 17 shutout innings so far and the rest of the staff has allowed 35 hits and 15 walks over 27 frames. That’s nearly two baserunners per inning getting on — and it doesn’t even count Ramirez’s base-filled debut last Friday in Cleveland, saved by one pitch.
What a shame if what is looking like a Cy Young caliber debut by Hernandez — no, I’m not jinxing anyone, this has been a Cy Young quality start to a season against two teams expected to contend — goes to waste. And it will go to waste, unless something turns around in a hurry. The Mariners will have their chance to boost their numbers this weekend against a Texas team they really should finish ahead of in the standings. And they had better take advantage of this weekend series to pad their record because it doesn’t get easy after that, with the Twins coming to town and a potentially killer road trip against the Angels, Rangers and A’s. I shudder to think of how poor this team’s record would be had it actually been forced to play four games in Cleveland. That’s been put off for now, but the backloaded games will likely come back to haunt this club later on.
If the Mariners want to avoid seeing their season end in a hurry, they have to turn things around starting this weekend. They could start doing it today in Boston, but with the rain coming down, I’m not holding my breath. Bottom line: Hernandez won’t be able to carry the Mariners forever. In fact, unless it starts snowing through the Safeco Field roof, he won’t be able to carry this team beyond April.



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