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Mariners blog

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

June 18, 2007 at 10:38 AM

Open season on Mariners

To paraphrase the Boomtown Rats, I’m figuring out why I don’t like Mondays. Cool and overcast outside after all that sunshine on the road. OK, not in Houston, but the weather was nicer before that stop. Kind of reflects the general mood of Mariners fans this morning. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, the “Rats” are Bob Geldoff’s (Live Aid guy) old group. Anyone who doesn’t know what “Live Aid” is, you’re probably too young to be frequenting a site as angry as this one is getting today.
Only kidding. You can stick around. Never too young to throw rotten vegetables at your favorite sports team. Look, I’m not going to sit here and tell you Bill Bavasi is a great general manager. Or that Mike Hargrove is right for standing by Richie Sexson as long as he has. I think there has to be a drop-dead date for Sexson to turn it around, the team has to stick to it, and then move him out of the heart of the order if he doesn’t come around. I mean, some of you saying this are absolutely right. The heart of this team’s order is getting to be a liability. You can’t waste the No. 5 spot on a guy hitting below the Mendoza line with the halfway point of the season just a couple of weeks away. I understand what Hargrove is doing. I know he feels that Sexson could come around any day now. He always has. But there has to be a point where you cut bait. And not entirely. Just bumping Sexson back in the order and putting a hotter hitter in the middle. Be it July 1, July 15, or whatever. Set the date and stick to it. If Sexson hits below .200 until Aug. 15 and then goes on a tear, hits another 25 home runs and slugs .600, it still does this team very little good. You have to maximize production out of the No. 5 spot for the maximum number of games. Not for six weeks. I would not want to be in Hargrove’s shoes on this because he is simply playing the odds. The odds say that Sexson will come around soon. But sometimes, the percentages play tricks on you. This could be the one year Sexson hits 18 homers and drives in 75.
Anyhow, you know what? Sexson’s struggles — and he did have two hits yesterday, so maybe that was the start — are not why this team is losing. I was telling someone last night that I have never, in 10 seasons covering MLB, seen a team do such a complete reversal on its fans over so small a time period. Hard to believe it was only five days ago that this club was the talk of Seattle. I know, because I had radio and TV requests coming out of my ears. Now, they are dead in the eyes of the fan base. Even worse, they are the target of a lot of long term fan anger and resentment.
As I said, my job today isn’t to invalidate that anger. But I do want to point out a few things.
First off, the team’s travel schedule is not a media-created excuse for why the club has lost five in a row. Do you want to know why this team is now seven out in the AL West? Ditch the conspiracy theories and listen up:
The Mariners have gotten by all season long with starting pitching that befits a .500 team at best. Nothing better and nothing worse. Maybe a few games in either direction, but .500. They’ve scored a few less runs than they’ve allowed and that usually has .500 written all over it.
Lately, the offense had gone on a tear that no team in the history of baseball has been able to sustain over an entire season. The Mariners averaged about seven runs per game for a month. That’s over 1,100 runs in a season. Again, check the history books. Can’t be sustained.
So, the team just played 46 games in 48 days and the hitters got tired. Sexson as well. He’s tired. Jose Guillen is more worn out than he’s ever been in his career. Adrian Beltre is hurt. Jose Lopez’s brother just died. Raul Ibanez looks like he’s sleeping on his feet. Mentally and physically, these hitters are spent. Throw that into the mix with the usual starting pitching — mostly adequate, but by no means contender-like — and the losses start coming. Unless the hitters can pile up the runs, a team giving up five or more per game will usually lose as often, or more, than it wins.
That’s it. No mystery. Some of you think the travel stuff is overblown. Let me tell you, it is not. I’ve done this for a decade and I’ve never been more tired on the road than I’ve been this season. And I am in shape. Run three miles per day at a clip of seven minutes or less each. Lift weights. And I am tired. Why? Those added Cleveland stints really add up. That extra city has made the last two trips a four-city experience. Few ballclubs ever have to do that. Maybe once a year tops. Not on back-to-back trips. Not across multiple time zones and back again. It doesn’t matter whether or not you are in a first class seat. I’ve been upgraded on a few of these flights and while it’s great to have some food and a few inches more space, it doesn’t change the stress and fatigue that even a one-hour flight places on your body.
Then, there is the stress of getting to and from the airports. No, it isn’t a “ducking bullets in Baghdad” kind of stress. But it is stress nonetheless. Whether or not you are actually carrying the bags. It’s the stress of having to be somewhere, on time, all the time. It’s the hurry-up-and-wait stress. It’s the adjusting to a new hotel kind of stress. Hey, I often stay in suites bigger than the players do (upgrades again) and I can tell you it makes very little difference. Spend more than a week on the road away from your loved ones and it gets depressing. There are mornings when you wake up blue and don’t know why. It just catches up to you. Sneaks up on you. Especially on a trip like this one, where you wake up and can’t remember what city you’re in. Where all the rooms start to look the same. Being away from home puts your body and mind under a great deal of stress. This isn’t like being in a resort where you wake up, tumble out on to a beach, sip some rum and cokes and then head off for a buffet dinner.
This is work. Whether you’re a writer or a ballplayer, you’re on-the-clock from the moment you wake up in another strange, dark room. The workday begins at the ballpark many hours before the actual game. So, from the moment you get up, if you want to see any sights, squeeze in breakfast and lunch, or simply do something interesting and non work-related that day, then you slide on the watch and try to make it happen.
But you’re on-the-clock. For the players, they are expected to be in top shape mentally and physically once the game starts. So, any “fun” has to be squeezed in during those hours between wake-up and ballpark. You can try for some after the game, but do too much of that and your career gets in trouble. Otherwise, it’s all work. All the time. And we know how much fun workaholics have, don’t we? I know that some of you think you know more than me about the subject of travel and that’s OK. I realize you may have taken a few business trips and feel like you’re a road warrior.
This is not the same. This is a lifestyle. It’s one very few people understand unless they’ve done it. When you’re on the road three or four months a year, away from those you love and who center your life, it’s tough. A real grind. Is it complete hell? Of course not. But it is harder than most people realize. I’ll call it “extreme travel” –sort of like comparing the folks who do half-marathons to those who do the Ironman in Hawaii. No comparison. And these trips were tougher than usual. Believe me, the players felt it. It is not an excuse. Seattle travels more than any other club and right now, the team’s traveling has become extreme.
That’s why the M’s cancelled batting practice after that 13-inning win over Chicago. I heard someone suggest on the radio today that it was wrong to do that and that the lack of BP is why the team hasn’t won since. With due respect, that is wrong. Many of the players didn’t get back to their hotels from the ballpark until after midnight that day. They had just traveled in from Cleveland and arrived in the wee hours of the previous morning. Chicago was their third city and third time zone on the trip. Hargrove simply gave them a couple of extra hours to sleep and maybe do something for themselves in the windy city by cancelling BP. Allowed them to adjust their schedules a little. They had just played 13 innings. They were exhausted. And I truly believe those 13 innings are what finally did the hitters and the bullpen in.
That’s it. Hey, I understand the frustration. The truth is, this is not a team I ever expected to make the playoffs. You folks know that. Been preaching the same warnings for weeks and reality finally caught up. It’s been a great ride to this point and I still expect this club to finish with more wins than losses. And I expect to see progress, with a view towards the long term, as the season unfolds. So, fire away at the club all you want. But keep it all in perspective. The travel woes are not an excuse. They are real. But they can also not be used as a crutch to explain the season as a whole. This team was never going to win 95 games the way it was put together. Let’s see how those running the Mariners deal with that reality. It will say plenty about where this team will be in 2008 and 2009.

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