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Sitting in a plane 30,000 feet in the air allows you to see things more clearly. Not merely the Grand Canyon as it passes by to your left out the window. We’re talking about other things: like why so many of us have debated changing around the Mariners’ batting order despite the fact the 12-7 team is in first-place.
In recent days, I’ve seen debates about whether Endy Chavez should lead off instead of Ichiro, while the latter could be pushed back to the No. 2 spot, or even at No. 3. I’ve heard a gnashing of teeth over when a still-homerless Adrian Beltre will be moved out of the No. 4 spot. Or when Ken Griffey Jr., sporting nearly as many walks as hits this season, will be dropped back to No. 6 and Jose Lopez moved up to No. 3 in his place. Some of you want Yuniesky Betancout moved into the No. 10 spot – meaning, the bench.
Hey, we’re all guilty of this. I’ve done my share of “What if?” speculating.
But so far, manager Don Wakamatsu has by-and-large stuck with the same guys in the same roles. Part of it was injury-related. You can’t move a middle infielder to the bench when your backup guy, Ronny Cedeno, is hurt. And it’s tough to move a power hitter out of a power spot when your best home run hitter, Russell Branyan, is in the midst of sitting out a week with back spasms. And when your closest thing to a power hitter so far has been Chavez. You know that won’t last.
So, that’s one reason to stay the course.
The other is, naturally, that the M’s keep on winning. Sometimes, it’s with bunts and a prayer, but a team we all felt would have a tough time reaching .500 this spring is now five games over that mark. And that buys you time. Time to see whether those important hunches about the offense, made over the winter and carried through the spring, actually come to fruition.
If your master blueprint involved Beltre as a key power source, then you don’t abandon that three weeks into the season. And if your scouts told you last winter that Griffey still has bat speed and you’ve seen him pulling balls to right field, then turning around three weeks in and deciding you were completely wrong about it does seem hasty.
Especially if your team has bought you time to see how it all plays out.
This is where I think the fundamental disconnect between impatient fan and patient team comes into play. We were all accustomed to gauging what this team should do based on our experience of last year. The Mariners were supposed to contend and when they did not, tumbling into a late-April freefall, changes had to be made, simply because time was not on their side.
They were not a 12-7, first-place team. They were a last-place club playing itself completely out of contention by mid-May. And that’s why, after a month of watching Brad Wilkerson, Kenji Johjima, Richie Sexson, Jose Vidro and others flail away and miss baseballs, the Mariners began releasing guys and called up Jeff Clement and Wladimir Balentien. That’s why John McLaren began moving guys all around the batting order.
McLaren had no choice. If he didn’t do something quickly, his team was going to crash and burn, which it ultimately did, even with all the changes.
The M’s of 2008 did not have the luxury of waiting to see if their master blueprint would pan out. Not by late-April.
It’s a different story this year. Much different as far as urgency goes. If the season ended today, the Mariners would be division champions.
Now, this doesn’t mean you carry on forever with guys who aren’t hitting in certain roles.
But it does mean that, if you know Beltre has hit for power before, you can afford to wait a while longer to see if he does again. And so on, and so on, down the line. Each new series win buys the Mariners another series to wait and see with.
The more the team wins, the more time is on its side. Lose six in a row and fall into third place? That would change things. But this team isn’t there yet. It’s nowhere close. The Mariners are now guaranteed to finish April above .500. The Angels are a mess and the A’s haven’t impressed anyone yet. So, for the time being, the Mariners can afford to be patient and see whether their best laid plans will bear fruit..
April 27, 2009 at 10:27 AM