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August 6, 2007 at 2:00 PM

Weapons defense system?

I didn’t want to get into a whole Ichiro debate this afternoon, but since most of you spent the morning talking about him, why not look into the matter more. I’m not talking about his grabbing extra bases in games when his team is down by a half-dozen or more runs. That issue is pretty clear: Risking an out in a situation where the amount of baserunners is more important than the positioning of them does not help a team out.
Sunday’s game was not a good example of that since the Red Sox were giving him the base. In last Wednesday’s game, the Angels weren’t and he was credited with a steal. We’ve talked this one to death, so let’s move on to another topic: the prospect of other teams, especially contenders, coming up with an anti-Ichiro strategy.
The Boston Red Sox say they have done that and that it was responsible for Ichiro going 1-for-14 with only an infield single in the series. I guess all of baseball has fine-tuned its anti-Richie Sexson strategy by now, by I digress. Anyhow, the fact Ichiro failed to come up big, or deliver with his usual consistency, in one series is hardly a cause for panic. But it is something to watch for down the line.
Will other teams be studying what the Red Sox did? Where their pitches to Ichiro were located and try to discern patters? I’m sure they will. The fact that Ichiro does not like to take walks could be used against him if teams can pick up on a location of pitches he doesn’t hit particularly well, but swings at anyway. And if those teams don’t have good infield defense, it might not matter much if Ichiro can put the ball on the ground and beat out the throws to first.
But this is a topic of interest to me since I have rarely seen one team handle Ichiro as effectively as the Red Sox have managed to this season. And he has hurt them big in the past, so they seem to be learning from mistakes. Trial and error if you will.
Does this really matter? I say it does. The Mariners have performed at a sub-.500 level for over a month. That type of play will guarantee they miss the post-season. Mariners manager John McLaren said yesterday morning that his club will have to start treating each series with great importance, no matter who the opponent is. Kind of the approach we’ve advocated on this blog for a while now. It seems there have been a growing number of important series, each more important than the last, for this club. McLaren feels the same way, as do a number of Seattle players.
There is a very difficult road stretch to Cleveland, Toronto, New York and Detroit looming at the end of this month and stretching into early September. Prior to that, a road trip to Minneapolis and Texas, separated from the other trip by a three-game home set with the Angels. How’s that for tough? So, how important is it for the M’s to win big the next two weeks? I’d say very.
And good teams need their top players to come up big when it matters. And Ichiro is this team’s biggest offensive and defensive contributor. If he doesn’t play big, the M’s have zero chance. Seattle has gotten by all year without Sexson. He is no longer an impact player on this team. May be one day, but there is no argument to be made for that this year.
Not so with Ichiro. He is the team MVP and has a shot at league MVP. But this is where the great players have to come through. It’s going to take more than Ichiro for the M’s to make the post-season. But without him, it’s a moot point.
Is he the only franchise player who should be coming under intense scrutiny this time of year? Absolutely not.
Let’s see what’s going on in Detroit, where season-long MVP hopeful Magglio Ordonez has seen his on-base-plus-slugging (OPS) percentage fall from 1.050 before the All-Star Break to .774 in the second-half. It’s not a lethal blow to his club, but a huge dropoff from before. Down to .618 the past week.
How are the Tigers playing? They’ve won only one of their last 10 games and dropped five straight.
Over to Los Angeles, where one-man Angels wrecking crew Vladimir Guerrero had taken a home run hiatus of late. Guerrero failed to hit a home run in July after clubbing only three in August. His slugging percentage in July was only .375 after a pretty mediocre .455 in June. Any wonder his team nearly blew an eight-game lead on the M’s between late June and late July.
Is it any wonder the Angels have slowly started picking up the pace again, moving back to 3 1/2 games up on Seattle, now that Guerrero has four home runs and done more slugging over-all in the first week of August?
Alex Rodriguez’s team is doing very well in New York despite the fact his numbers have slowed from that early-season tear he was on. The quality of opponents faced by New York might have plenty to do with the Yankees winning even with a so-so A-Rod in July. Will that impact his MVP chances? I say it certainly should. There are several good hitters on that Yankees club.
Does Ichiro have to do it all in Seattle? No, he doesn’t. But he will have to do better than 1-for-14 or a .670 OPS since the All-Star Break. And it will be interesting to see just how he responds to the challenge if the smarter teams pick up on what the Red Sox were able to do.
Without Ichiro at his best, the M’s are toast. They need more than four runs per game to win and the runs start with him.
I will now take this time to tell you that I am taking a few days away from this blog. Larry Stone has long been scheduled to do the Baltimore-Chicago road trip (the first trip I have not been on this year) so I can spend the week in Hawaii. I had considered doing the blog from there each day, but did not want to get stuck trying to comment from afar for that long a time, throwing together some simplistic posts before hitting the beach. Larry is someone many of you enjoy and trust and I feel confident leaving the blog in his hands while he is on this trip. I look forward to getting back and picking up where we’ve left off as the M’s prepare for the stretch run. Will talk to you all then.

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