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

July 17, 2007 at 9:51 AM

Ramirez and depth

A nice return by Horacio Ramirez last night, not to mention stellar work by the bullpen once again in providing a 4-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles. Seattle now a game behind Cleveland again in the wild-card hunt. As some of you have mentioned, the Minnesota Twins are creeping into the wild-card picture, slithering through the grass on the M’s heels. Well, not exactly on their heels. Four games back of Seattle. The folks at remain bullish on the New York Yankees, as has pretty much the entire East Coast. That will probably continue until the day the Yankees are eliminated. Why is that, really?
Over at Baseball Prospectus, the so-called “third order standings” (W3, L3, over on the right hand side) no longer show that the Oakland A’s “should” be leading the division. Only that they “should” be 49-43, based largely on run differential etc., while the M’s should be 45-45. Wow, that’s a seven-game spread for Seattle. Big difference. I guess the M’s and BP just aren’t going to fit in the same ballpark this season.
The Mariners are 2 1/2 back of the Angels once again and have a chance to gain even more ground tonight when the biggest reason the M’s might catch the division leaders takes the mound for Los Angeles. On the road no less. (Yes, it is Ervin Santana pitching at Trpoicana Field. Not sure why has Bartolo Colon, as a reader points out.)
Last night’s outing by Ramirez was a welcome change from his previous efforts. Many of you have mentioned the fine work done by Rick Griffin and the Seattle training staff to “turn around” Ramirez and Jeff Weaver. I’d wait to see how Ramirez looks on the road before proclaiming him changed. But there is no hiding from a 94 mph fastball. That much about him has certainly changed. The increase in velocity alone should be worth a couple more wins for Ramirez and maybe a few more seven-inning efforts.
So, why is it that Ramirez and Weaver have experienced such hikes in their velocity? Simple arm strengthening has much to do with it. As we’ve mentioned on this blog before, it isn’t any team that can afford to allow four different starting pitchers to go on the DL for four weeks or more.
Here are the M’s starters to have done so:
Felix Hernandez — April 19-May 15
Jeff Weaver — May 11 to June 9
Horacio Ramirez — May 25-July 15
Cha Seung Baek — June 17- unknown
The only other AL team to have lost that many starting pitchers for a month or more of the regular season is the Yankees. They also lost four. But who were those four? Carl Pavano, Phillip Hughes, Darrell Rasner and Jeff Karstens. Not exactly rotation mainstays all of them. All four made a combined 12 starts. Sure, Hughes was highly coveted. But it’s not like any of them were integral parts of the Yankees’ plan. Chien Ming Wang did spend a month on the DL, but a week of that was at spring training, so we’re not counting him. We’re talking four or more weeks of big-league games missed.
And in that light, Seattle is clearly in a league of its own. Especially when you consider the team’s record.
AL teams with starters out four weeks or more:
Mariners — 4
Yankees — 4
Rangers — 3
Orioles — 3
Blue Jays — 2
A’s — 2
Indians — 2
Red Sox — 1
Royals — 1
Tigers — 1
Angels — 0
Twins — 0
Devil Rays — 0
White Sox — 0
Seattle is one of those teams that apparently can afford to have starters miss this much action. The depth in this rotation, which far exceeds the “stuff” of the guys in it, has allowed Felix Hernandez, Weaver, Ramirez and Cha Seung Baek to spend a month or more away from the rotation without any significant impact. It helps that Miguel Batista has allowed three earned runs or less in 12 of his last 15 starts. Think about it. No, he doesn’t go seven innings very often. Three times in 18 starts. If he did go seven-plus more often, he’d be among the premier pitchers in the game. But from a middle-of-the-rotation guy? Those numbers are more than acceptable. That’s depth.
Jarrod Washburn has gone seven or more in a third of his outings. He’s clearly been the team’s No. 2 starter behind Felix Hernandez this season, despite hitting the occasional rough patch. Washburn has allowed only seven runs in four outings since his three-week winless stretch that culminated in a loss to Houston almost a month ago to the day. The team has gone 17-7 over that stretch and morphed from a .500 club into a legitimate playoff contender.
Rather than be weakened by losing so many starters for prolonged periods, the M’s treaded water at worst. With the bulk of those starters now back — at least, the ones the team began the year with — the Mariners are now in a position to do even better than before. As I’ve mentioned previously, GM Bill Bavasi does deserve credit for this. He assembled the depth on this pitching staff. And for now, it looks as if that depth may have saved his season at a time when other teams may have been crushed under the weight of so many pitching injuries and breakdowns.



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