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Mariners blog

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

June 25, 2007 at 9:37 AM

Enough fooling around

Amazing how the weather changes here week-to-week. A week ago today, it was cool and overcast as the Mariners enjoyed an off-day ahead of meeting two of the worst teams in baseball. Today, it’s gorgeous and sunny, with temperatures expected to climb to 80 degrees by tomorrow. Got to love it. And I do. And plenty of Mariners fans out there are heating up as well, sensing that the next two weeks will be very meaningful for this club. I agree. What happens these next two weeks could very well chart the moves this club makes going forward.
Been getting a fair amount of email accusing me of “rooting” for this team to lose, mainly because I mentioned over the weekend that the Mariners are getting dangerously close to forcing their front office to “pull the plug” on the season and look towards the future. I will answer that by stating these basic facts:
This blog’s numbers rise dramatically when the Mariners win. We have still set records at the Times, win or lose. But win and the daily numbers rise by 50 percent or more. Win and we blow away target numbers that big-wigs at the paper never dreamed could be reached. About seven weeks ago, I was told that our monthly traffic had just about levelled off (can’t tell you the exact number of hits, but let’s just say it’s well into six figures). Since that time, it has risen another 60 percent! Do any of you seriously think I’d rather have this team lose than win? When the team was winning five in a row in San Diego and Chicago, my cellphone was flooded with radio and television interview requests. A book deal for the season wasn’t far behind. Here’s the reality folks: every beat writer out there wants to see the team he or she covers go to the playoffs. To say, or feel, otherwise, is self-defeating.
Now, all of that said, me sitting here and trying to pump up the daily hit count by misleading you about the team’s chances isn’t going to help anyone in the long term. I want this to be a place where fans know they can come for a reality check. I don’t want this to be simply another fan site where people come to seek group comfort, whistle in the dark, and confirm what they want to hear. When I give praise to the team, I want you to know that I mean it. That it’s been earned. That there really is something praiseworthy going on. If it costs me a few readers in the short term, then so be it. But I am trying to stay consistent here. No, I will not always be right. And yes, teams do sometimes defy the odds and turn prognosticators on their ear. With that in mind, I have not written off this team’s playoff chances just yet. But it is getting to be crunch-time. It was crunch-time in Anaheim about a month back — as far as the AL West race was concerned — when the Mariners lost the series finale and fell to 5 1/2 games back of the Angels instead of 3 1/2 back. A lot of you didn’t want to hear that a series in late-May could be so telling. But it was, like it or not. Even had the Mariners not dropped six in a row heading into last week, they still would have gained zero ground on the Angels in a month. As it happened, since the end of that Anaheim series, the M’s have dropped another 2 1/2 games in the standings and the division race is effectively over for them. Argue with me if you want and I’ll get back to you in October. But for now, that race is done for me.
Now, on to the one race the Mariners are still in, the AL wild-card battle. Seattle enters play today three games behind the Cleveland Indians with the Minnesota Twins, Oakland A’s, Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees nipping at the M’s heels. Eliminate all those other teams and the Mariners would still be in-tough to catch a Cleveland squad with better pitching and hitting. But the reality is that those other clubs are heating up.
The Blue Jays have gone 24-16 since an early May losing streak that looked like it would cost manager John Gibbons his job. The Yanks are 15-8 since the end of last month — and that’s including their recent skid in which they’ve dropped five of their last six. Minnesota has played .500 ball long term for a while now, but is 9-4 over the last 13 games. Oakland just got swept by the Mets, but the A’s are 13-9 for the month. It’s getting to be crunch-time for them as well. None of these teams shows any signs of going away.
Seattle plays Toronto next weekend, then has four road games in Oakland the weekend following. Those games could have tremendous impact on Seattle’s wild-card fortunes heading into the all-star break. And that’s after this week’s series against the Red Sox. There is a big difference between the M’s coming out of the all-star break only three games behind the wild-card leaders, or being six games out with four teams in front of them.
Either scenario is possible depending on what the Mariners accomplish over the next two weeks. A half-dozen games out, with three or four teams ahead of them, and Seattle’s front office will be thinking very hard about selling rather than buying at the trade deadline. Mid-July is when any sane front office begins making those hard decisions. Mid-July, because of the all-star break, is only two weeks away. We will know two weeks from now where this season is going. If the M’s want to prolong the summer fun, they have to stop fooling around and take care ofbusiness right now.
Fooling around? Yes. I’m not saying the team is playing games in the dugout. What I’m saying is, a 4-2 record against the Pirates and Reds would have been OK a month ago. But not after going 0-5 against the Cubs and Astros over the five games prior to that. In all honesty, for the M’s to negate the final half of that road trip, a minimum record of 5-1 was needed against those cellar dwellers. Didn’t happen, so no, it’s not time to rejoice. The AL won two thirds of the games versus the NL in interleague play, but the M’s went .500. Seattle just blew a pretty good chance of gaining some wild-card ground. Now, in order to keep the magic going beyond the all-star break, the M’s will have to stop doing the expected (like going 4-2 against losing NL teams) and surprise people. How to do that? By beating clubs with .500 records or better. Surprise folks by taking out the Red Sox, Blue Jays and A’s — while taking care of business versus the Royals — and maybe this team does get in on the Mark Buehrle sweepstakes with an eye to contending.
How are the M’s faring against such teams?
Angels: 2-7
Red Sox: 1-2
Padres: 4-2
A’s: 4-1
Tigers: 1-2
Twins: 0-3
Indians: 1-1
So, that’s five games under .500 against teams at .500 or higher, and 11 games over .500 against losing teams. Yes, if you take away the Angels, then the M’s are .500 against the better teams. But if you take away the A’s, then the Mariners are eight under .500 against the good teams. Look, you can’t play that game, tempting as it is. You play the teams that you play. Seattle is not a bad club. But if it’s to be a contending club, it has to beat the good teams more than it has.
Do the expected, like keeping the games close, but going a couple of games under .500 these next two weeks, and the wild-card hopes should be just about done by the break. So, if you want to cheer, get out and cheer now while there’s something to play for playoff-wise. I’m well aware this is a better team than any of the last three seasons. Well aware this is a legitimate .500 team that is capable of winning more than it loses. But being better than the last-place clubs of 2004, 2005 and 2006 doesn’t automatically make the M’s a contender. And if they aren’t a contender, there is room for improvement — especially with a $110 million payroll — and that means making tough decisions. So, let’s sit back and enjoy these next two weeks because, believe me, they are important and will be quite telling. I’m very excited about heading to the ballpark tonight because the results of these games will mean something. And, in two weeks, we’ll have a much better idea of which decisions the Seattle front office will have to make for this club going forward.
NOTE TO “DR”: Yes, there were a number of people filling in for me at the games the past week. With the hectic travel sked of the past six weeks and the upcoming grind (I’ll be covering 10 of the next 12 games, working all but one day until the all-star break), the powers-that-be wanted to give me a short rest ahead of the bigger stuff. Nothing to do with the blog growing. Just a regular rest in a long season. Will get one in August too, when Larry Stone covers a road trip. This is normal for every beat writer, especially when long road trips are involved. But thanks for asking.

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