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April 29, 2008 at 9:33 PM

Better late than never for M’s

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Back from the clubhouse and, let me tell you, I don’t think tonight’s 7-2 win over the Cleveland Indians has staved off any coming changes for very long. For Hughdawg in the comments thread, the reason I’m not preaching patience after tonight is I just watched a team nearly blow a second straight game in which a starting pitcher was fantastic. Carlos Silva threw a “quality start” of seven-plus innings, allowing just two runs. You cannot lose games like those. This entire team is predicated around getting exactly those types of outings. If the offense is going to be so bad that you start losing those games, the season goes out the window. If this was a one-time occurrence, I’d chalk it up to a bad night. But this was the second game in a row that it’s happened. Felix Hernandez threw seven shutout innings on Sunday, but gave up some runs in the eighth and lost.
This team cannot keep going into the ninth inning with only two runs scored. One of the two tonight was the result of a Cleveland error. Yes, that last inning was good to see if you’re an M’s fan. But it’s the 17 innings prior to that one that were bothering me.
Carlos Silva was a real pro afterwards, considering he’d just seen the offense wait until the ninth before scoring five runs. The big blow came courtesy of a three-run homer that inning by Adrian Beltre, pictured above being congratulated by temmates on his way back to the dugout. Silva pitched well, but gets a no decision despite allowing two runs in yet another seven-inning start. The pitching has been there.
“The only thing that matters here is not the winning pitcher,” he said, diplomatically. “It’s getting the ‘W’. You watched the last game against the A’s, nobody can pitch better than Felix did and we lost. What I do is try to keep the score as low as I can and give the offense a chance to win the game.”
Yeah, but it’s getting to the point where unless the pitchers spoonfeed the offense seven or eight strong innings, the team has zero chance. Can’t happen. A team getting this many seven-inning outings from starters should be winning 70 or 80 percent of the time. Not less than 50 percent. The bullpen appears to be slowly finding it’s way. But the hitting can’t drag on much longer.
After talking to Bill Bavasi and John McLaren after the game, I feel stronger than ever that changes are inevitable. I asked Bavasi about Wladimir Balentien and Jeff Clement being held out of the Class AAA Tacoma lineup tonight. He assured me both were completely healthy with no problems. But he declined to say whether they’ll be on a flight here from Tacoma tomorrow. Leads me to believe it’s going to happen very soon.

I asked McLaren, during an upbeat post-game news conference, whether he really felt all that much better about the offense, given the two lone runs before the ninth. That’s when his tone — and the mood of the conference — changed.
McLaren kept dropping the same word — impatient — over and over again, as if bracing the media for what is to come.
“I’m not singling anybody out,” McLaren said. “I’m just saying we need to pick it up. Because we’ve got some guys struggling, and like I said, we’ve given them a month and there are options. We know that there are options and we’re not afraid to go to those options if we have to. I hate to say that after a good game, but I’ve got to be honest with you.”
That’s honesty. I doubt this game really changed the future all that much.
I saw little tonight that’s going to change my mind long-term about this team’s offensive woes. Let’s see how Jose Vidro and Brad Wilkerson do tomorrow. Kenji Johjima is still in an awful rut and — last I checked — Jeff Clement is a catcher. Richie Sexson was having a brutal night until that double in the ninth. Lots of holes still present in the lineup, all in a row too.
So, a little bit of encouragement from Vidro and Wilkerson tonight. But the bottom line is, this team still had only two runs — one earned — heading into the ninth. If Clement and Balentien aren’t playing in Tacoma, and service time doesn’t matter, get them an airline ticket to Cleveland. If anything, they can force guys to stay at the tops of their game.
Not by scaring them from the bench. By sharing playing time, or platooning with the regulars. Let’s see who is better and get the best guys out there. No one is saying hand Clement a job if he starts out 0-for-20. But at this stage, that’s not much worse than the production the team is now getting. If you’ve got assets, it’s time to use them before the season gets out of hand. I did not expect the offense to look this bad when the season began. I had much higher hopes for Vidro, Wilkerson and Johjima. Maybe they can still meet those expectations. But if they don’t, if they keep going this way, the season is going to be all-but-done in a hurry. There really is not much more time to waste. A 4 1/2 game deficit heading into tonight is something I felt the M’s would be leading this division by. They aren’t and it’s because of the bats. If they can’t get the job done, find someone who can.
And if Clement and Balentien don’t help, keep on trying. Vidro will still be a part of this team and likely Wilkerson, going forward. But they don’t have to have 500 ABs in a season automatically. Make everyone earn their playing time going forward. It’s the only way winning teams do it.



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