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May 7, 2008 at 10:34 AM

On the brink

A gloomy morning out there today for Mariners fans and it has little to do with cloudy skies and cool temperatures. The Mariners have to win these next two games, especially with their two top starting pitchers on the mound. As I mentioned last night, I wrote before this series began that Seattle had to take three of four from the Texas Rangers. They will then have to take the next series from the Chicago White Sox and move on from there. These are not good teams the M’s are facing right now and it’s imperative that they use these games to make headway in the standings.
So, despite the 10-1 loss last night, it only counts as one defeat and leaves the series tied. That means Seattle can still take three of four and, quite frankly, can’t waste any more time. This team is already 7 1/2 games out and 6 1/2 back of second-place Oakland. Catching one team is hard enough. But even the wild-card shot is starting to become a pipe dream here. And honestly, the M’s can no longer afford to look at other teams in the standings. They have to get their own house in order. If I’m them, my goal becomes to win these next two games, stop the bleeding first, then focus on whittling that gap with the Angels down a bit.
And focus on getting some offense. No, there wasn’t much that could be done last night once it was a 10-0 game in the third. There was plenty that could be done when it was still a 2-0 or 3-0 game, but several of the key hitters, as I mentioned last night, have not come through with runners in scoring position this season.
Seattle is now 0-15 in games in which they trail by two or more runs at any point. I talked about this stat during my Talkin’ Baseball segment this morning on the Mitch in the Morning show on KJR 950 AM. Some of you have asked me how that number compares to other clubs. Well, I can tell you that only two other teams in baseball have yet to overcome a two-run gap to win a game this season: the Toronto Blue Jays and Colorado Rockies. The Blue Jays are 0-13 in such scenarios while the Rockies are an abysmal 0-19. But wait. While there is at least one major league club worse off than Seattle, the M’s still come off poorly in comparison to last year’s World Series finalists.

That’s because the Rockies, while failing to win a game in which they fall behind by two runs at some point, have at least managed to overcome that gap during the game to a greater extent than Seattle has.
The lowly Rockies have at least managed to come back from two runs or more down to either tie or take the lead on five occasions before going on to lose. Toronto has rebounded from deficits of two or more in four of the 13 defeats only to ultimately lose the game.
Seattle has done this only twice all season. Once against Texas before J.J. Putz blew the save on the second night of the season, when Seattle rebounded from 3-1 down in the eighth to go up 4-3. But a Josh Hamilton blast in the ninth off Putz turned that game around. And then again against Baltimore on April 24, when Ichiro hit a two-run homer in the seventh to overcome a 7-5 deficit, only to see the M’s lose the game on a homer in the eighth.
That’s it. At all other points in the season, when the other team goes up by two or more, the M’s wilt.
Playoff teams can’t do that.
I think a big culprit, which we identified last night, has been the inability of some of the team’s key hitters to get the runs home when they have a chance. We looked at Adrian Beltre, Raul Ibanez and Richie Sexson and how their numbers drop when they come to bat with runners in scoring position. It was there for all to see last night when, down 2-0 in the first inning, Seattle got two on with none out only to have the Ibanez-Beltre-Sexson trio strand the runners once again. They get some hits, the game possibly goes in a different direction. Maybe Jose Lopez is on his toes in a close game and snags that grounder heading for the outfield to prevent Texas from tacking on five more runs. Sigh. Who knows, right?
These aren’t always “clutch” situations with the game on the line in the eighth or ninth innings. Ibanez and Beltre tend to be better at those. But frankly, this offense is so bad that it’s not a stretch to consider even first or second inning at bats to be clutch moments. When you can’t score runs, every at-bat with guys on base becomes clutch.
And as I mentioned, if this team falls behind 2-0 in the first inning, there’s a very good chance the game is already over. So, if a game is scoreless in the fourth and Ibanez comes to bat with a guy on second, is that a “clutch” situation? Until this team proves it can hit its way out of a paper bag, it is.
I’ve looked for some posiitve signs this team can overcome the hole it’s dug for itself. Thought I saw one the first three innings on Monday. But in the 14 innings since, the M’s have scored one run. Ken Griffey Jr. is not the answer here, folks. Sorry to burst that bubble. It’s not 1998 anymore. We’re in 2008 and this team will have to win with what it’s got and avoid the temptation to add yet another sub-.700 OPS DH type to its roster at the cost of an actual living person. If you want the PR fluff and warm fuzzies so badly, add Griffey next year as a free-agent when he isn’t going to cost you anything but money. This team is good at spending that. For now, stop wasting your own time with the Griffey thoughts. He isn’t going to help this team dig its way out of this mess.
Positive signs to seek out tonight? A well-pitched game by Erik Bedard and an offense that can put some runs across. It’s come down to a night-by-night study of this team, unfortunately, and every inning, every run put up will be a “clutch” situation until it reverses this downward spiral. Buckle up tight. Tonight could get real interesting or real ugly.



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