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April 16, 2008 at 7:35 AM

Pack small stuff for trip

Guess the Mariners got the memo about the need to manufacture runs. Ichiro gets on in the first inning and instantly swipes third base. Yes, the timing was right, with a lefty on the mound and a righty at the plate. But hey, the timing’s been good on other occasions too. This time, he put himself in a position to tie the game on the first of three sacrifice flies by Jose Lopez.
Seattle had only two sacrifice flies heading into the game. But the M’s now have seven. It’s not often where the ability to manufacture runs will factor into an 11-6 game. But those five sacrifice flies, tying a major league record by one team, proved the difference on the scoreboard. Also nice for M’s fans to see Jose Vidro finally notch a double. He’s going to have to do better than one per month to stay in this lineup every day. His team needs at about eight per month from him on-average, unless he suddenly becomes a home run hitter. Kenji Johjima also got his bat going yet again. Looks like he’s slowly climbing out of that hole he dug himself.
Now, on to Oakland. I leave on a flight in a couple of hours, but will first be doing my Talkin’ Baseball segment for the Mitch in the Morning show on KJR 950 AM at 8:20-8:25 a.m. Things won’t change this weekend on what is obviously an important early-season trip against the A’s and Angels. Important, because if the M’s mess around and get swept — minus Erik Bedard this weekend — they will find themselves in a Johjima-sized hole before April is even three weeks old.

So far, the 7-8 M’s are only two back of each club despite a bunch of early-season headaches. But it’s important not to let that gap grow, lest the team wants to spend the entire season catching up. Remember, the schedule only gets tougher in May. Reasonable goals for the Mariners this trip? A split in Oakland and two of three in Anaheim, leaving them with a 3-2 record. Felix Hernandez goes tonight, so that Oakland split would seem the barest minimum. In fact, the M’s have their two top starters — Hernandez and Carlos Silva — going this series, so things could get really ugly in a hurry on this trip if at least a split is not achieved. The A’s have played well the first two weeks, despite a loss yesterday. But with Rich Harden down yet again, it gets tougher from here.
Joe Blanton goes for Oakland tonight and has had Seattle’s number in the past. But the Mariners did knock him around a bit in 2007. No Jason Ellison heading to the Coliseum with Seattle this time around, so someone else will have to throw it down with Blanton if he shoves Ichiro again.
A’s have a .688 team OPS, so their offense is living up to its no-game reputation. Jack Cust will be in the lineup tonight, and does bring some pop. But it’s the starting pitchers, taking a 3.02 ERA into this series, that have helped the A’s to a 9-6 record thus far. In other words, these might not be the highest scoring two games. The ability to manufacture runs could be huge. Let’s see if the M’s carry any of yesterday’s game into tonight. Yes, it’s early. But this series has meaning in, if nothing else, the Mariners not letting the AL West start to get away from them before they really get their season underway.
Best to keep that gap at just a couple of games, at least for now, while the team rides out the injuries to Bedard and J.J. Putz.



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