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

June 28, 2007 at 10:09 AM

Sleepless in Seattle

Hard to get to sleep after yesterday’s series sweep by the Mariners. I don’t know about you folks, since I don’t bring pom-poms to the games, as you are well aware of by now, but I do get a little extra pumped up for work when the games start to mean something. It means the eyes of a city are going to be focused on the team playing those meaningful games, in this case the Mariners.
That means extra stories, blog items, radio interviews…it’s a fun time. It’s easy to do this stuff when the fans care. And you know the fans care when “trinitygal” talks about organizing a posse to repaint my office walls in Mariner blue. No need for that. My “office” isn’t the type that has walls. Unless you count those little divider things between desks. Anyway, I’m rarely even at the office. Today, I’ll probably be at the local video store trying to rent “Peter Pan” as some of you have suggested. No need. If the Mariners keep on sweeping, or merely beating, the good teams from here on in I will start becoming more optimistic about their chances. The coolstandings.com playoff odds, as asked for by a reader below, for the M’s have now jumped to 1-in-5, so they did help their cause somewhat. Baseball Prospectus still sees them finishing third in the AL West, with their “third order” adjusted standings figuring they should be a game under .500. That’s what all those one-run wins do to computers. The machines assume there’s a certain “luck” quotient involved.
Sweeping the Red Sox was a great start down the road to making believers out of skeptics — at least, the human ones. Here’s a story on yersterday’s game from a Boston perspective, an article by Gordon Edes of the Boston Globe — possibly the country’s top beat and national baseball writer — that “albert” quoted from in the previous thread. Edes actually wrote a letter on my behalf for U.S. immigration officials that helped get me a work visa for this country last summer so I will always be in his debt. So yes, a great start for the M’s, as mentioned. I just want to make sure there isn’t another six-game losing streak looming right around the corner before I completely re-evaluate everything I’ve thought about them to this point.
The Toronto Blue Jays, my old team, come to town this weekend with three of their hottest pitchers — Roy Halladay, Dustin McGowan and Shaun Marcum on the hill. You all know about Halladay. McGowan was supposed to be the “next” Halladay before Tommy John Surgery and some mediocre call-up stints dimmed his star considerably. But that one-hitter he tossed his last time out was an example of why so many people have been so high on his potential for so long. Then, there’s Marcum, a recent draft pick and “swingman” type of call-up the past two seasons who has come out of nowhere to be a rotation mainstay in 2007. Marcum threw six no-hit innings back in May and has steadily gone deeper into games. In other words, the M’s will have their hands full. Note how this game story from Toronto’s win in Minnesota yesterday talks about the Blue Jays being on a critical 10-game road trip. Why is it critical, you ask? Well, because the Blue Jays are playing other wild card hopefulls in Minneapolis and right here in Seattle. Just like the M’s, they are trying to figure out whether they’ll be buyers or sellers in mid-July. And just like the M’s, how they do in these games before the all-star break will go a long way towards proving that.
Thought there was a playoff type atmosphere when Boston was in town? Shouldn’t be any different this weekend. The Blue Jays are actually fighting for their lives a lot more than the Red Sox these days. They will bring their hordes of fans down from British Columbia. Interesting to read your takes on how obnoxious Toronto road fans can be. Never really got to see any in action while I was there because I guess Seattle in the only place they really do draw road fans. Used to in Detroit, but not since the Tigers got popular in their newer ballpark.
Some of you think the Mariners have a shot at the AL West title. News like this, that speedster rookie Reggie Willits bruised his knee in yesterday’s loss to the Royals, should help keep you going. It was Willits and Orlando Cabrera who helped revive the Angels offense by getting on in front of Vladimir Guerrero. I don’t know what the Angels are going to do offensively if they have to miss Willits for very long. Too bad the M’s aren’t playing the Angels now because Willits did a number on them the last few times they hooked up.
There were few signs the Angels were about to crash and burn against the Royals. This column was written before that series, after the Angels had just swept the Pirates. Yes, life was good. Got a little nasty in a hurry. Note that the columnist wasn’t all that impressed by the Pirates. Sound familiar? Not like sweeping the Red Sox, that’s for sure.
So, we’ll see if that was a one series fluke or a sign of things to come. Heading into that series, I saw no reason the Angels could not continue to win at a .600 clip given their pitching. But the offense does have to produce at a minimum level for that pitching to matter. We saw what happens when it doesn’t. Jared Weaver outpitched his mound opponent, but you have to score to win. Just ask the Oakland A’s, who finally figured that last bit out and enabled the M’s to pick up a game on Cleveland.
Speaking of Weavers, I had an interesting clubhouse chat with another pitcher about Jeff Weaver’s recent turnaround. This pitcher had an easy answer for why Weaver looked so bad early and now is at least looking competitive out there. Nothing to do with any injury, he said, more like a routine schedule. All those weather delays early meant that Weaver could not get on to his regular pitching schedule for a good month.
Weaver is a finesse pitcher, not a power pitcher, as so many of you keep noting. Finesse, or control, guys need to have command. When they don’t and they start missing their spots, the hitters absolutely destroy the stuff left over the plate. We saw that with Weaver as he left a bunch of 86 and 87 mph stuff right down the middle and nearly had his head taken off in April and May. We saw Weaver start to show flashes of something better in early May at Yankee Stadium once back on a semi-sort of routine. But after that he regressed in Detroit. But remember, it was only the first time all season he’d had a chance to get on to a regular routine.
Had he endured one good start and one terrible start (say, at Comerica Park in Detroit after that Yankees outing) in early April, would fans have called for his head? Maybe some of you more rabid ones, but not most. The point Weaver’s fellow pitcher was trying to make is that all the weather delays impacted Weaver the most. He endured the most days between starts, the most disruption. And while guys like Felix Hernandez and Miguel Batista throw enough pitches in the low-to-high 90s to get away with mistakes, Weaver can’t.
Neither can Horacio Ramirez or Jarrod Washburn. Ramirez absorbed some terrible beatings before going on the DL. Washburn did get to make an early start on April 3 and did not have his routine disrupted to nearly the same degree as Weaver did. This isn’t the Jeff Weaver Excuse Wagon. Just pointing out that some of us forget what a tough time April was for this team’s starters and Weaver in particular.
Given how Weaver has looked sharper and is finally building up some velocity after getting more regular work, it sounds plausible to me. So, yes, I do believe we will see a better Weaver in the second half. Do I think a Weaver who goes six innings and allows three or four runs will be enough of a “new” pitcher to put this team over the top? No, I don’t. Not unless that complete game shutout he threw was a sign of something we can expect on a more regular basis. Not every time out, but once a month would be nice. Seven innings every other start would have me thinking differently.
What do you think? Is a turned around Weaver going to make the difference? Are the other guys in the rotation enough to catch Cleveland? Remember this one thing, folks. Contending teams do tend to turn it up in August and September. At least, that’s always been my experience watching the Yankees, A’s, Angels and Red Sox in years that see them make the playoffs. The St. Louis Cardinals took the opposite route last season. But I would tend to think that 95 games will still be the magic number needed to win the wild-card. The division? Try 95 to 100. Might not happen, but wouldn’t bank on anything less.
How about you? What’s your wild-card guess? Can a superior bullpen in Seattle trump a not-so-great Cleveland relief corps? In my opinion, no. Not the way the Mariners have currently been winning. The M’s don’t have a rotation “stopper” like C.C. Sabathia. Looking more and more like Mark Buehrle is going to be off the table. He’s the one arm out there that I thought could help this club. Not so sure about anyone else. I’d like to see the M’s try to find a diamond-in-the-rough, like the Yankees did with Aaron Small and Shawn Chacon a couple of years ago. Do I know who those diamonds are? No. If I did, I’d be swimming in diamonds, silly. So, what does that mean for Seattle. Well, I guess it means the current starters need to step it up and start pitching in with more regular seven-inning efforts like we saw against the free-swinging NL last week. It didn’t happen when a more patient Boston club came to town. Weaver has the most room to move upward. Sprinkle in more of those seven and eight inning efforts and then we can start to talk. Then we won’t have to listen to all that talk about the M’s “overachieving”.

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