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May 21, 2008 at 9:52 AM

Losing ugly

One of you, maybe it was Lance, asked me what the difference is between simply losing and losing ugly. Isn’t any loss an ugly one? No, in fact. At least not the way I see it. So far, in the majority of their losses, the Mariners have managed to keep the game at least “winnable” only to be let down by their offense. And I still do believe it’s the offense costing this team the majority of games. The Mariners may be averaging 4.13 runs per contest, but in reality, the games in which they’ve actually scored more than four runs have been few and far between.
The team’s run average has been pumped up by a handful of games, including ones like last night’s where a lot of late markers are scored in a lost cause. Think back to last week’s 13-12 loss in Texas, where the M’s scored six runs the final two innings to tie. In 99 percent of games like those, the Mariners would not have been able to come back all the way and tie the score and the final outcome would have been long decided. They got lucky instead, lost the game in extras, but still managed to bump the overall run total significantly. Those two losses, last night’s and last week’s, added 20 runs to Seattle’s offensive output. In reality, 20 runs is about what this team scores in a given week when things truly matter. Last night’s game mattered up until the Tigers made it 11-1.
In reality, the M’s have scored four runs or fewer in 31 of their 46 games. So, the fact that they are averaging 4.13 runs per night is misleading. In two-thirds of their games, they haven’t scored more than four runs. Compare this with 2007, when the team scored four or fewer in only 53 percent of games. And remember, last year’s team was hardly an offensive juggernaut, finishing just above league average in terms of production.
So, that’s a serious offensive problem in 2008. And I still believe you have to fix that first, then look at overhauling the defense.
But this club, as has become obvious, does have other problems. Most notably, defense. We saw some of it last night. On the Ichiro play on the three-run triple, for those who asked, I wasn’t saying he has to catch that ball. Just keep it in front of him. But you’re right. He was the least culpable. Jose Lopez allowed a ball to get past him at second base that should have been stopped. The official scorers in Detroit are known for pumping up the home team’s batting averages and that play was a prime example of a hit that should have been an error. A tying run scored on that play.
Yuniesky Betancourt also wrongly covered second base on a hit-and-run, after being told by Lopez that he would take second, and another hit got through where he should have been standing. Once that happened, the floodgates opened from there.
So, the defense didn’t help in this game.
And once again, the starting pitching didn’t measure up. This has become all-too-common a theme for the M’s over the past 3 1/2 weeks or so. Carlos Silva did not bring his A-game to the table and got pounded. Lasted only four innings and allowed seven runs. Cha Seung Baek threw batting practice after that.
And when the hitting, pitching and defense aren’t working, you have the makings of an ugly loss. A game that is essentially over by the fourth inning. Games that make it look as if a team has gone to sleep.

Now, I’m not dense. I know that teams can naturally let up once they trail 7-1 or 11-1. A feeling of hopelessness sets in once the hitters start mentally calculating how much of a scoring effort it will take to get back in a game. It shouldn’t be that way. But it always is. It’s human nature. However…that doesn’t let the hitters completely off the hook. Had Silva gone out and given up seven runs in the first two innings, I would not be as hard on the team as I was last night and again right now.
But the M’s had their chances to stay competitive in this game and blew it. They blew it by getting dominated by Justin Verlander in innings 2 through 4 while it was still a competitive game. And they blew it by not making plays in the field that could have mitigated the damage of Silva’s poor location and kept it a 3-1 or 4-1 game. This wasn’t a “veterans versus rookies” thing. This loss was a team effort. By the more experienced starting pitcher, the less-experienced long reliever, the veteran bats and the mid-20s middle infielders. No Mariner was immune.
This game was ugly because the M’s were cooked by the fourth inning. It was ugly because their long reliever is as inconsistent as many of the starters. The game was done once Baek entered, but the way he pitched turned a lopsided game into an undeniable embarassment. And there have not been many of those for the Mariners this season. Games where even the fans at home want to pull paper bags over their heads to hide their shame.
Experience too many of those in close proximity and the manager pays.
McLaren is already on borrowed time with the fan base. This team will not be able to keep him around if it is being embarassed on a nightly basis. And I think the potential for further embarassment on this trip is huge. The Tigers have a potent lineup that just got woken up by Seattle pitching. The two worst Seattle starters, Jarrod Washburn and Miguel Batista, are due to pitch next,
Then it’s off to Yankee Stadium against a team that — last place or not — just got Alex Rodriguez back and has the ability to make struggling teams look a lot worse than they truly are. Forget what the Yankees have done. I’ve seen them do this too many times. Let folks think they are down and out, only to lay waste to a visiting team that comes in firing on less than all cylinders.
So, yes, the way the M’s played last night, I could see them getting embarassed again very quickly. Can see them losing every game on this trip, as a matter of fact. The only times I feel they have a chance lately are when Erik Bedard and — sometimes — Felix Hernandez take the mound. But don’t forget, Hernandez and Carlos Silva got blown away at Yankee Stadium three weeks ago when A-Rod wasn’t even in the lineup.
So, I hope that answers your question about losing ugly.
As for McLaren, there’s only so much he can do as a manager for a team that can’t hit. Or play defense. I was surprised not to see Jeremy Reed in there right away, but figured McLaren did not want him going up against Verlander in his first start. The way Verlander looked last night, I doubt Reed would have made any difference in the game, but if you’re going to bring a guy up, play him. Wladimir Balentien didn’t look great against Verlander and could easily have been sat.
McLaren did not want to sit his hottest hitter, Raul Ibanez, against a righthanded pitcher and had already annointed Jose Vidro his DH in his last-ditch shot at making that spot work. Vidro responded with two hits, both meaningless since they came with the game already lost, but he was still one of the most productive M’s on the night.
So, that’s why Reed didn’t play. I would have liked to see him start in right field.
But these minor decisions become irrelevant in a game in which the team embarasses itself. Losses like this one give the appearance that a team has stopped playing for its manager. Sometimes that part is true. Sometimes, it just looks that way.
And to keep his job, McLaren cannot afford to give that impression. His team’s record is bad enough. A lot of his on-field decisions are being questioned. Based on what I’ve seen, I don’t think a new manager, like Jim Riggleman, will make any real difference on the field.
But no manager can be seen as having “lost” his team in the precarious position these Mariners are already in.
So, any more embarassments like last night’s and McLaren will be on day-to-day watch. And even if his team doesn’t get embarassed, but keeps losing night after night on this trip — which is entirely possible, as I’ve pointed out — it will be very difficult for the team to bring McLaren back to Seattle with them for another round of home cooking.
That’s the way baseball works.



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