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

April 13, 2007 at 10:02 AM

Big weekend for M’s

Lots of thoughtful responses to yesterday’s blog item. You sure do take your baseball team seriously and it’s good to see we can get a debate going here without resorting to petty namecalling and cheap shots.
No one is asking you to give up on the Mariners after just five games. The point of yesterday’s exercise was to demonstrate that there are different ways of looking at things and to show how big a role perceptions can play. My feeling is, without Mike Hargrove’s actions last Friday and a couple of all-star outings by Felix Hernandez, the perception of this team would be a whole lot different. It’s like taking your brand new sports car to the mechanic. The chrome might be flashy and the leather interior plush, but if the mechanic warns you that the tiny drip of engine fluid coming out of that hole in your V-8 could become a serious problem if not fixed right away, well, then, what do you do?
There are some very bad warning signs that have creeped in early with this team. Perhaps it is all weather-related and they do get straightened out this weekend. Hey, like I said, fans should be thrilled the Mariners are 3-2 at this point and not 1-5. But those backloaded games are going to hurt down the road, so best start taking care of business this weekend. If this team is to contend in 2007, it has to be able to take series from clubs like the Texas Rangers.
One of the best points I saw made in all the discussions yesterday and this morning was about the quality of the starting pitchers Seattle has had to face so far. Certainly, the Mariners have yet to see any club’s fifth starter, though opponents can say the same about Horacio Ramirez (No. 4 guy in Seattle) who has yet to have an official outing. Jeff Weaver has only thrown once so far, when he otherwise would have had two starts right now.
But yes, the quality of pitching the Mariners have been forced to see has been pretty good. We’ll ignore the fact that Paul Byrd (yes, that Paul Byrd) came within one pitch of a five-inning no-hitter against Seattle last Friday. The name-quality of mound opponents otherwise has been very solid. But let’s face it. The AL West is a pitching division. Seattle did get a look at Oakland’s No. 4 rotation guy in Joe Blanton. The M’s did not have to face veteran Esteban Loaiza (maybe that was good for the A’s, who knows?). But I do think it’s overstating things a bit to say the pitchers Seattle has faced have all been aces. They will see another good pitcher tonight in Kevin Millwood. Vicente Padilla goes tomorrow and also had a huge year for Texas in 2006. But Padilla has not looked the same since signing his new contract. The Mariners hit him very well this spring. Come to think of it, they looked pretty good against Millwood at times this spring.
Brandon McCarthy? A good young pitcher, but nobody’s ace. The excuse-making stops here.
Hey, you don’t want to buy into that thinking? Fine. Yes, I know the Mariners have won a couple of games already that they might have lost last year. Just don’t buy totally into the hype of this 3-2 record is all I’m saying. Is this a different team from 2006? Perhaps, but a few other AL teams have also made improvements. We’ll start to see how much of a difference Seattle’s improvements will make once this team plays a few consecutive games. Especially over the next five days without Felix Hernandez on the mound.
The bullpen has only had one save opportunity all season and botched it. That area has yet to even be explored and I thought it was the club’s biggest weakness coming out of spring training.
Remember, this is the Hot Seat season. The normal two-or-three-month waiting period to gauge a team does not apply. The Mariners bought themselves an extra week of grace with all the snowouts but the judging really does start now. And the numbers have to get better. You can’t fall five or six games behind the division leaders in April or May and expect to catch up more than once in a generation (unless you’re the the A’s, but the Mariners don’t have the pitching those Oakland clubs had).
And unless they start pitching better without Hernandez’s help and hitting more consistently, starting this weekend, an early five or six games behind is exactly where the Mariners will wind up, 3-2 start or not.



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