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Mariners blog

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

September 6, 2007 at 10:42 AM

The morning after

NOTE: (4:40 p.m.) The M’s just released Rick White. They will make a corresponding roster move tomorrow. Not a surprise. He didn’t get the job done. Yes, after his first outing in Texas, I thought he showed enough to merit a second look in a high leverage situation. You don’t bring possible solutions in unless you’re going to try them. But White failed after that and now he’s gone. Always tough to find quality help after July 31. Also, for those asking about playing Jose Vidro at second, it’s not about his defense. It’s about keeping his bat out there. Jose Lopez isn’t giving you much defense right now. Vidro at second is about keeping his and Raul OIbanez’s bat in the lineup every day while playing Adam Jones. Hope that clears up your questions.
On to the post…
Hard night for everyone out there, I’m sure. Appreciate the concern after I vanished the final few innings, but my server was giving me trouble and I was trying to write a feature on Charlton Jimerson in one night without messing it up — while keeping track of the game — and something had to give. Turns out, it was the M’s who “gave” the most.
Now, we get to spend this off-day dissecting what comes next. To me, it appears that Seattle’s season is done despite the team being only three back in the wild card race. Not to mention only two back in the “all important” loss column, to coin a traditionalist baseball cliche. Why am I now so skeptical, when two days ago, I felt so optimistic? Probably because this team has zero consistency, other than being inconsistent. And when you have to make up three games in three weeks plus a day, some consistency is required.
How can the M’s begin to rectify the damage done? Sweep the Detroit Tigers. Alrighty then, let’s get to it, right? It’s that easy? Of course not. Which explains the pessimism. But this is what taking the hard road involves. A lot of hard stuff. The easy route was abandonned when this team lost 11 of 12 games. Taking two of three and winning the Detroit series would be nice. But the M’s are now at the point where they have to start shocking some people if they want to have a chance. Sweeping the Tigers at home, where the M’s lost two of three in their only other visit to Motown back in May, would qualify as a shock.
So, how to go about doing that?
For starters, let’s identify the three obvious shortcomings that have put this team in the position it’s in:
1. Starters not going deep enough
Yes, Jarrod Washburn threw six excellent innings last night. A “quality start” his team needed. Would have been nice to go seven, but any team will take what Washburn gave them in a big-game situation. Unfortunately, over the last dozen games of this losing stretch, the starters have thrown only four “quality starts” (minimum six innings, three earned runs or fewer allowed). They have lasted seven or more innings only three times. Not enough for any club hoping to make the post-season.
2. Bullpen slowing down
Calling it “slowing down” would be charitable. Yes, John McLaren looked a little hopeless running out the parade of arms he did in that seventh inning. But it’s not like any of them were getting hitters out. Some of you have asked me why Geroge Sherrill seems to be slowing down late in the season. I don’t know the answer. I can only tell you the same thing happened last year. Brandon Morrow and Sean Green have also struggled during this streak, as has Eric O’Flaherty. About the only guy in that bullpen getting people out is J.J. Putz. I suppose you could bring him in for the seventh last night, but as one reader already mentioned, if Putz is the only guy you can rely on to get an out in a pennant race, then the race is already over.
The bullpen is what got this team to where it is today. Was it inevitable that it would slow down? No. But it was a concern.
Back on July 30, as the trade deadline approached, I summarized the team’s greatest needs, as I saw them, moving forward. Here, in a nutshell, is what was written:
“If you can’t make your starting rotation better than it already is, you do the next best thing. Make your bullpen better. Limit the amount of innings your starters have to pitch in order to win the game…”
And then…
“Yes, the current bullpen has been lights-out for the most part this season. But does that mean it’s untouchable? No way.
“George Sherrill began having elbow problems at this point a year ago. Who knows whether they will become an issue again in August. He doesn’t think they will but honestly has no idea. If Sherrill goes down at any point, this bullpen is severely messed up. Not only is he arguably the best situational lefty in the game but he has also become something of a “1a” setup option from the right side in combination with relievers like Sean Green, Brandon Morrow and now, Mark Lowe. Would I feel more comfortable with a full-time, proven righthanded setup guy there heading into the playoffs? Darned straight. If the bullpen is your biggest weapon going forward, why not maximize it?”

On talk that the M’s were looking at Kei Igawa to replace Horacio Ramirez, it was written that:
“Why make a lateral move like that if you can add depth — and certainty — to the strongest part of the team? Just in case? I don’t feel comfortable going forward knowing that the strongest part of this team, the bullpen, is one injury or rookie flameout away from being derailed.”
In any event, the M’s chose to do nothing. They stood pat. I have no idea how hard they tried in the weeks leading up to the deadline to get the best starters or relievers possible. We do know that Rick White was signed and assigned to Class AAA a few days before I wrote that post. Was the team content to stand-pat at that point? Did it push as hard as it could to get the best possible solution to bolster bullpen or starting depth. Who knows? We only have their word to go on. All I know is, they didn’t get it done. They did nothing to improve the rotation or bullpen. These are post-mortem questions that will have to be asked when evaluating the performance this year of GM Bill Bavasi and his crew. Right now, it’s not looking good.
Which brings us to item #3 on our list: The streaky hitting
This is probably the least of the team’s problems, compared to the previous two. But it has contributed to this season-killing stretch of losses. Seattle has scored only five runs the past two games. The M’s have put up four runs or less in eight of the 12 games and three runs or less in seven of the 12.
So, of the three problems we’ve presented, is there a solution to be had? I just don’t see anything that can be done to better the rotation or bullpen. As we mentioned above, the team made choices in July and has to go with them the rest of the way. But there are some options offensively, with a bunch of untested prospects sitting in the dugout. Let’s take a closer look at what’s happened to the offense.
Some of you have mentioned the recent struggles of Jose Vidro. He’s gone 11-for-46 (.240) with two doubles and a home run during this 12-game stretch. But if you look at the 12-game stretch ending with last Friday’s game in Toronto, Vidro was hitting 15-for-51 (.294) with two homers and three doubles. If you go back 13 games from Friday, he was 17-for-56 (.304). Selective short-term numbers can say many different things.
Should Vidro be benched based on his performance over the last five games since after Friday’s contest? Maybe he needs another day off, maybe not. At this stage, I don’t see it being as clear cut as some folks.
Ben Broussard was 3-for-15 (.200) in five games leading up to last Friday. Should he have been sat down? Good thing he wasn’t, since he’s gone 6-for-16 (.375) with two doubles in five games since.
Raul Ibanez? Continues to rocket the ball all over the place. Had his shot up the middle not deflected off the mound last Friday in the ninth inning at Toronto, the Mariners would have had the lead, likely won the game and we wouldn’t even be talking about him. He should have had a double last night, only he hit the ball so hard that Shelley Duncan was able to make a superb play off the wall and a rifle throw to second to nab him. Ichiro had much the same bad luck on a long single earlier in the contest.
Ibanez is 7-for-19 (.368) over his last five games even with that fluky out on the mound deflection in Toronto. He’s 18-for-53 (.340) over the last two weeks. And yet, some people continue to insist he’s dragging the team down.
But that’s fine. That’s why we have debates on this site. We’re all looking for solutions.
My inclination would be to keep both Ibanez and Vidro in the lineup. Vidro has regressed somewhat of late, but not over a long enough period to pull the plug. And when you talk of moving a guy out of the lineup, or playing him only infrequently, it can have a large impact on his numbers. Look at how those lofty numbers put up by Adam Jones in Class AAA have shrunk when he plays only sparingly.
But do you know what? Hold on to your hats. I think I’m ready to see Adam Jones in the lineup right now. Why? Because the M’s have very little to lose in trying it out at this stage. The team is 1-11 down a crucial stretch, is about to be realistically knocked out of the race any day now (if it hasn’t already been). It’s time to throw caution out the window. Time to take a risk. Would I have done this a few days ago? No way. But if I’m going to sit here and write that this team’s just about done, why not advocate a gamble. Throw Jones out there. At who’s expense you ask?
For right now, I’d say the guy at second base. Jose Lopez made two more errors last night and has been horrible at the plate for months.
His last three monthly OPS numbers (including September, at the bottom)?
.461
.617
.517
Lopez may develop into an all-star second baseman again. But his offense insn’t winning games and his defense is losing them. Why twist ourselves into a pretzel trying to make a two-pronged argument about Ibanez when there is clearly a prime example of two-way harm staring us in the face. This isn’t a “veterans” versus “young guys” crusade/argument whatever. The facts are sitting out there for all to see. I happen to really like Lopez, was invited to his home during a trip to Venezuela by him last year and feel horribly about all he’s been through with his brother. But Lopez is not at the top of his game now and the team’s brass knows it and the players know it. They see it.
So, what would I do? Right now, I’d put Vidro at second base tomorrow night, Jones in left field and make Ibanez the DH. After that, maybe I switch things up and put Ibanez back in left and make Jones the DH. And if Vidro continues to struggle, I sit him down for a rest, put Lopez — or maybe Willie Bloomquist or Nick Green — in at second base for a night and do the Ibanez-Jones shuffle any way possible. Take it day-by-day.
Maybe Jones goes on a tear and gives this team a power surge it needs. Maybe he struggles and hits .220 the rest of the way. At this point, there’s nothing to lose. I still think the most crucial factors for this team going forward are the rotation and bullpen. But if this is the only fixable option you have, go ahead and try it. Would I have advocated this last Monday? No. The team was only a game out of the wild-card then with a shot at the lead. But the guys this team was counting on just got poleaxed in their two biggest games of the year. Time to roll the dice, take a chance and see if the team can luck out with some “double sixes” at this stage. Not my preferred option. But there’s nothing to lose any more.
The “show what you’re made of” talk by McLaren last night was nice. But it only means something if you’re willing to back it up.

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