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

May 22, 2007 at 7:42 AM

Time running out

Good to see Richie Sexson make some good, solid contact, especially on that double that should have led to an RBI. Guess I was wrong about leaving Sexson in the heart of the order. He seemed to repsond to that challenge in Cleveland, though we’ll see if that’s a one-game thing or not. So, another day and another loss, this one 5-2 to the Cleveland Indians.
Down here in St. Petersburg, Fla., where most of the team is still snoozing off last night’s flight in, nobody really expects the Devil Rays to win on any given night. But there is a load of talent on that team and it can do some surprising things to clubs that waltz down here anticipating a sweep.
Ah, a sweep. How would that impact the Mariners right now? How much would that turn around the team’s long-term outlook? Plenty, it says here. The first-place Angels begin a series in Detroit tonight and you just know they are not going to sweep a very good Tigers club. The Mariners open tonight 5 1/2 games back in the standings and are going to be hard-pressed to catch up if it gets much worse than that.
Places like, which I began following closely last season while doing a Blue Jays blog in Toronto, already list Seattle’s playoff chances as being down to 3.3 per cent. The folks at that site run computer simulations of the remainder of the baseball schedule and factor in all sorts of variables like runs scored and allowed — and head-to-head results so far — to come up with a realistic projected finish for a team.
As of this morning, the Mariners are projected to finish with 73 wins and are given a 2.1 per cent chance at the AL West crown and a 1.2 per cent shot at the AL wild card. Hardly uplifting news, with the Angels projected at 94 wins and the A’s at 89. Time to start changing those numbers while there is enough time left on the schedule to make a difference.
Beginning with a sweep of the Devil Rays would be a good place to start. The quality of the opposition won’t be an excuse this week. Seattle is facing two of the three worst clubs in the AL in the D-Rays and Royals. That’s six games. Going 4-2 would seem the minimum here. A 5-1 finish would be something I’d think these M’s would really be pleased about. The difference? Huge. Go 5-1 and you’re almost certain to make up ground on the Angels before flying off to Anaheim at month’s end. A 4-2 clip, and there’s a very good chance the M’s head to Anaheim trailing by the same 5 1/2 games.
Of course, a 6-0 run would be nice. But let’s get real. The Mariners have yet to sweep even one three-game series. No reason to think they can do it back-to-back. They’ll be on their way to sweeping this one, though, if they can get past Scott Kazmir, whose 3.83 ERA makes him the toughest pitcher the M’s face in this series. Seattle gets to avoid James Shields, who doesn’t go again until Friday, so if they beat Kazmir — and M’s starter Jarrod Washburn is 9-2 with a 2.61 ERA career wise versus the D-Rays, his most victories over any opponent — the quality of the mound opponent drops considerably. The next two Tampa Bay starters each have ERA marks of 7.80, higher than even Miguel Batista and Horacio Ramirez. How many times will we see that? And tonight’s starter, Kazmir, is a lefty. Seattle does well against those. Even C.C. Sabathia had all types of trouble in Cleveland last night.
So, the stars are lining up for a Seattle sweep. Yes, they still have to play the games. But sweep this very sweepable series and the M’s can look at a 5-1 stretch over the next half dozen and perhaps head into Anaheim down only three or four. Mess around here and that Anaheim series starts to look like a nail in the coffin kind of deal. Is it still early? No way. Even Mike Hargrove’s estimate of needing 50 games to see what a club is made of will be coming around once that Angels series is over. And he’s right. By then, we’ll know exactly where the Mariners are headed.
As for Hargrove’s bullpen management last night, no I don’t think — as some of you have written — that leaving Cha Seung Baek out there in the seventh is grounds for his dismissal. The Mariners were shorthanded in the bullpen. They didn’t have Chris Reitsma, who has a sore elbow, and had used Sean White for 3 2/3 innings the night before. Yes, Hargrove could have gone to a set-up man, but lefty George Sherrill had worked three of the last four games and Brandon Morrow two of the past three. Burning one of those guys in the seventh inning of a game the M’s were still trailing in would be a risky move long-term. Think about it. You’ve got three very winnable games coming up here against the Devil Rays. Do you want to lose one or two because your primary set-up men are all too gassed to pitch with a lead in the eighth? The way the M’s were failing to score runs, there was no reason to realistically expect them to come back against the Indians. After all, they hadn’t done so the previous day against the Padres in a very similar situation. In that case, you try to get through the rest of the game with a long-term mop-up guy in Eric O’Flaherty. And in that instance, the way Baek had pitched, it’s a gut call in the seventh as to who would fare better. O’Flaherty can sometimes take a batter or two to get warmed up and in a groove. That would not have worked out with two on in Cleveland. So, yes, this Hargrove ploy did not work out. No, I do not agree with everything he did this past week, especially the benching of Sexson. But no, I don’t think what he did against the Indians warrants dismissal or should be added to his list of “offenses”.
You don’t win when you don’t score. Funny, I’ve seen a lot of comments, posts and emails the past 24 hours about the Mariners lacking “talent”. Not sure I agree. Ask anyone around the game and they’ll tell you Yuniesky Betancourt has talent. Ichiro lacking talent? Really? Adrian Beltre has no talent? Please. Jose Lopez was an all-star. No talent? Jose Guillen? Lots of talent there.
Felix Hernandez? J.J. Putz? Brandon Morrow? A little talent, from what I can see.
That’s a whole lot more talent than the last team I covered, especially up the middle. What the Mariners lack is consistency. They also lack another “talented” starter or two but we’ve covered that bit extensively since the winter meetings. As for the rest of it, consistency would go a long way towards maximizing that talent. This is where the point about “mental toughness” comes in. A team that hits at about a .260 to .270 clip, then collapses below .200 with runners in scoring position — as we’ve seen the past week — could be said to lack some over-all mental toughness when it counts. Or maybe not. If you’ve got a better explanation, let’s hear it.
But the talent argument? I’m not buying. The Mariners have some pretty good talent all around the diamond, especially with the glove. But talent alone won’t win you a division title. Right now, the Mariners have to hope its enough to win tonight’s game and then the next two.



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