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

August 27, 2007 at 8:05 AM

Summit Series

Monday is here and folks in Seattle and Anaheim are pumped for tonight’s first-place showdown between the Mariners and the visiting Los Angeles Angels. The M’s ran out of gas at the tail end of that road trip (that’s happened a lot this season, something worth paying attention to in September) and finished 4-3. No, losing that series finale was not optimal for the team no matter how positive a spin is put on it. For the M’s at this stage, just as important as catching the Angels, should be putting some distance between themselves and the New York Yankees. You just keep expecting the Yanks to make one of their patented late-season charges. I know I expect it. I’d feel a lot more comfortable with a gap of three or four games between them and the Mariners heading into next week’s series than I would at one or two games’ difference.
Maybe that will happen. Then again, maybe not.
When I declared last night’s contest a “must win” I did not mean to say the season would be over with a loss. I suppose that’s what it implied and I apologize for the poor choice of words. Of course the season did not end. Then again, the M’s are still two behind the Angels and if they fail to catch them from here on in, then last night’s contest may indeed be refered to as one of those needed wins that got away. But the M’s, for whatever reason, did not show up offensively until very late in the contest.
What I should have clairified was that the Rangers series finale was a “Must Win For Any Contending Team Looking to do Things the Easy Way and not put any Undue Pressure on Itself”. Instead, the M’s lost and gave the Angels some breathing room heading into tonight’s series opener between Miguel Batista and John Lackey. Los Angeles only has to win one of the three games to guarantee itself of holding on to first place beyond this head-to-head showdown.
Yes, there are four potentially big games coming up in late September between these squads. But if the Angels sweep this series, those later games are likely rendered moot. Don’t believe me? Well, let’s just say that for the Mariners’ sake, I hope they don’t try to test the theory.
In other words, the M’s just put some pressure on themselves by losing that final game in Texas. Yes, a Seattle sweep of the Angels will undo all of that and thrust the M’s into the division lead by themselves. But that’s the only way they get out of here in first place. Not quite where they were 24 hours ago. And let’s not forget the psychological impact of a team leading a division all year only to get caught and passed on the eve of September. When that happens to distance runners, believe me, it has an impact. And baseball, as the players and coaches love to say, is a marathon, not a sprint. Yes, the Angels were staring that possibility in the face yesterday morning. Not as much any more. As I said, one Mariners loss guarantees they keep on trailing the Angels, even if it’s only by one game once this series ends.
Then again, taking a pair here does keep Seattle within a game of the Angels and keeps the pressure on with a month to go. No, it’s unlikely the season gets decided in this one series, unless the Angels sweep. But if the M’s take two of three here and go on to pass the Angels next week, or down the road, and win the division, there’s a good chance this series will be looked back upon very fondly.
If anything, this Lolapalooza (or Mari-blooza, or whatever the PR types are marketing it as) should bring a taste of playoff-type baseball not seen around these parts since before anyone even knew what a blog was. Wow, that’s an awful long time ago. Seeing fans all dressed in blue (the supposed dress code for tonight unless you’re an Angels fan, right “Angels of Bellevue”?) should provide a playoff feel to Safeco Field. I like the starting pitchers the M’s have lined up for this series and believe they give Seattle an edge. Then again, I thought the M’s would sweep the Rangers, so what do I know?
To whoever wrote that Rick White didn’t “prove” anything by getting out of the sixth on Saturday, I don’t know what else to tell you, except that him doing it for real rather than what his numbers predicted he’d do on a spreadsheet will carry some weight with the people running a team. It would be different if White had put up a 7.00+ ERA for the Mariners and flopped in such circumstances before. But we have to assume the M’s have eyes and read White’s stats over before bringing him here for that role. And when a team does that, the player in question usually gets a fresh start. His stats revert to zero until he proves he can’t handle the role in question. We saw that happen with John Parrish and he’s gone. White “proved” to his manager (the only person who has to have something proven to him) that he is at least capable of escaping such a jam. And until he “proves” he can’t, he’ll keep getting used there.
Otherwise, bringing him in was a waste of time. If you’re going to bring a guy on to a team to fill a role, then not try to find out whether he can handle the role, that latter part would be even dumber than bringing him on in the first place. Don’t order new tools if you’re going to keep using the same garden hoe.
Once again, at the risk of flogging a horse already reduced to glue, the M’s bullpen has been very good but is not impregnable. If White adds something to it, there is nothing wrong with having him around.
To the reader who wrote in earlier yesterday about McLaren not bunting after the first two batters got on in the ninth on Saturday, I understand the need to sometimes sacrifice the tying run into scoring position. Yes, there is a responsibility to tie the game before you try to win it.
I tried to explain the theory behind not wasting outs and I guess it didn’t get through. Let me try to be more clear. The statistics (there you go) show that giving up an out by sacrificing a runner to second base is a strategy that — more often than not — fails to result in a run eventually scoring.
The same reasoning applies in the case where there’s runners at first and second with none out and the tying run at first. In that situation, you will usually need another hit to score the runner from first. If you sacrifice the runners over, you will still (usually) need a hit to get the runner home from second (since a sacrifice fly or groundout won’t do it).
In both cases you need at least one hit. Would the odds of getting that hit be better with three outs to go, or two? One hit in three at-bats, or in two? I’d say the one-in-three (forcing a team to hit .333 instead of .500 to stay alive) would work better. No, that doesn’t take double-plays into account. But you can always start the runners or employ some other strategy to avoid that fate. Assuming a double-play, if you’re a team that swings away, is more of a fatalistic approach than you’d like to be taking, I think. Your chance of failure shoots up when you give away a valuable out and still need a hit.
I do think the M’s can take two of three here. They are a rested team, have the best pitching matchups they can hope for and the bullpen and lineup is fairly well-rested and could also have the edge in “close and late” situations. I can’t wait to get to the ballpark.

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