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

June 10, 2007 at 7:35 AM

Mariners keep winning

Style points don’t really count right now. The bottom line is winning and that’s what the Mariners have done the past two nights against one of the hottest teams in baseball. It doesn’t matter how many mistakes the M’s made last night. They got away with them. Worry about the long-term down the road. No, I don’t say that often and I do worry about it daily. But right now, for the M’s, this is about pure survival in what’s become an extremely tough division. Any type of a losing stretch this past week and Seattle would be out of the AL West race entirely. Instead, they are still hanging in there.
We keep talking about how Seattle can’t gain any ground against the Los Angeles Angels. Which they can’t, still 5 1/2 back going on two solid weeks now. But how must the Angels feel? They keep on winning, off to the best start in club history, but can’t seem to leave the Mariners in their dust. Even on a night when Ervin Santana finally wins on the road. Santana is getting to be a royal pain. Yes, Ervin, those big bad reporters questioned your ability to win on the road. Why? Because it’s not 2006 anymore. It’s nearly halfway through 2007 and you hadn’t won away from home yet. Deal with it.
Santana’s protestations sound as ridiculous as it would if Jeff Weaver were questioning reporters for doubting he could win, period. Which, to his credit, a clearer-thinking Weaver hasn’t dared do.
About Weaver’s outing last night, I liked the way he rallied from giving up those two runs in the first inning. Yes, he was a Jose Guillen catch away from giving up zero runs, but the two were valid and they still counted. But to hold the opposition hitless for three innings after that? A big boost to Weaver’s confidence. Yes, I am in favor of his getting another start, much like I was when he held the New York Yankees to a run over the first five innings at Yankee Stadium over a month ago.
We all know what happened after that, right?
The one regret I have about Weaver’s performance last night is that we didn’t get to see the full edition of it. A pitcher going four innings per night is not going to help this club — even if they were four perfect innings, which they weren’t. Yes, this was a back stiffness problem that felled Weaver and not the San Diego Padres. The point is, we don’t know how he would have fared in innings five, six and maybe seven. Weaver didn’t look to have all that much on his pitches in the early going. Would the Padres have adjusted the third time around in the order? We don’t know. In other words, the team is no closer to knowing whether Weaver is the long-term answer this morning than it was 24 hours ago.
The M’s thought they had an idea in New York five weeks ago. They were wrong. But at least they got to see Weaver for nearly six innings at Yankee Stadium. Would he have given up five more runs had he lasted six frames in this affair? Who knows? The M’s sure don’t. That’s the problem. We’ll now have to wait four more days for the picture to become clearer. Hey, I’m all in favor of him rebounding to become the pitcher the M’s expected. It would sure make this season a whole lot more interesting. But I can’t go out and celebrate anything just yet based on four abbreviated innings. Yes, there is optimism. But it can be doused in a hurry. Let’s get a longer look next time.
That’s the not-so-good news. The great news is that the Mariners pulled it out. The big hit in the game wasn’t so much the tying homer by Richie Sexson as it was the two-run single by Ichiro in the seventh that turned a 5-1 game into a 5-3 affair. If Ichiro gets anything less than a hit in that situation, the M’s likely score a run at most and go on to lose. But they didn’t and he gets credit for this win in my book. He’s showed me a lot these past five weeks. Not so much the first four. If you haven’t seen it yet, colleague Larry Stone writes a terrific piece about Ichiro today that sums up everything you need to know about his situation in 800 words or less.
It’s really very simple. And I agree with him that the M’s are highly unlikely to trade Ichiro if they are still contending in mid-to-late July. They would have to get their socks blown off in a trade for a valuable arm and I just don’t see that happening. Not sure the M’s could actually pull off a deal like that even if there was a willing partner.
But as we mentioned this week, it’s a terrible Catch-22. The odds of the Mariners staying in contention all season — that’s deep into August — are very unlikely with this mound staff. But the odds of them being where they are even right now without Ichiro are also highly remote. Without Ichiro last night, this team would be 6 1/2 back of the Angels and 2 1/2 out in the wild-card race. Oh yeah, they’d also be in third place behind an A’s team that keeps on winning and not allowing runs. Two earned runs or less given up in each of Oakland’s past 11 games. They even got a little bit richer with a minor trade after the game.
Even the computer folks at coolstandings.com have finally come to the realization the M’s have a better shot at the wild card than at capturing baseball’s hottest (best?) division. How do the Mariners keep doing it? With a whole lot of bullpen help, which is why Jason Davis was left out there last night. Even with good starts by Miguel Batista and Weaver in San Diego, the bullpen has been forced to toss 8 1/3 innings the past two games. This cannot continue.
And no, “Lance” there is no writer’s jealousy towards Batista. I’m writing about him because I was asked the question(s). I remain awed that he was able to complete a fiction novel. Very impressive. Much more impressive than what he sometimes brings to the mound. But I’ve said this all season, if you want a guy who throws six innings, allows a ton of baserunners, but sometimes escapes with two runs allowed, sometimes with five or six, he’s your man. Right down the middle. 50-50 shot. Just don’t make him out to be more than he is and he usually won’t disappoint. The tease is where he gets folks dreaming of a 15-win season and of No. 2 starter potential. Won’t happen. Never has. Why? He doesn’t go deep enough into starts. Needs at least three relievers per night to finish off his outings. But of the three newcomers, I’ll reiterate, he is causing the least amount of trouble and has been on a decent roll of late.
But somebody — anybody at all — has to throw at least seven innings for this team at some point. It would be nice for everyone, fans, the bullpen and the team’s coaches and front office, if Felix Hernandez can do that today.

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