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September 25, 2009 at 11:36 AM

Give Mariners their due for reaching the 80-win mark

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Yes, I know it means little as far as playing baseball beyond Oct. 4, but the Mariners should be given their due for reaching 80 wins last night with nine days remaining in the regular season.
During the pre-season, many of us had pegged the M's to finish somewhere between 75 and 85 wins, which is a meaningless prediction, since there can be an enormous difference between winning 75 and winning 85. I think I had them between 78 and 83 wins, which is almost as useless.
But I have to hand it to this squad. It will almost certainly finish with a winning record despite a slew of injuries, which, while the whole "most injuries in the AL" thing has been overplayed a bit by some folks, has made the season a challenge. It will do so with a bullpen comprised almost entirely of young or relatively inexperienced hurlers who started to hit the proverbial wall more than a month ago. And it will do so despite a minus-55 run differential that should make this about a 70-83 team instead of the 80-73 it now sits at.
That's not easy to do.
Photo Credit: AP


And a huge amount of kudos should go to manager Don Wakamatsu and his staff for having these guys ready to play every single night despite the challenges they’ve faced.
You saw that last weekend in the series with the New York Yankees. For me, that series is what tipped the scales in favor of a winning record for this team. Few would have batted an eyelash had the M’s been swept three straight. In fact, the Yankees were well on their way to capturing the opener of that set, with two outs, none on and Mariano Rivera pitching in the ninth.
But the Mariners found a way to win that game. For me, that ninth inning was the difference between winning that series and potnetially being swept and sent off on a tailspin. This team doesn’t do tailspins, though, and that’s a credit to the staff keeping them mentally ready to play every inning and every night.
No, this does not make the Mariners a contender for next season. Too many moves must be made for that to happen. Too many personel decisions.; But I’ll tell you what: this season, we saw a team that learned what it takes to win. Not one that figured out how to pad its record with meaningless victories in September, or one that piled on the wins in July and June, then faded when it mattered.
We’ve seen a team that’s competed night after night, from April through September. And that’s a nice building block to head into the winter with.
Now, it’s up to GM Jack Zduriencik and company to build off that. Zduriencik has enjoyed a prolonged honeymoon in Seattle and it’s deserved. But the pressure to repeat this season and improve on it will only build from here.
The reality is, this team has been shorthanded offensively all season long. The gaping holes were evidenct back in May and June and little was done to address them. There were no big-time, Matt Holliday-type bats brought in to help the M’s when they were within sniffing distance of the division lead and wild-card. And perhaps, given all that’s happened since, that was the right call to make.
We’ll never know for sure.
What we do know is that some big-time improvements are needed in the run-scoring department for this team to contend. It can start by upgrading the DH slot, as well as left field (maybe through expected improvement by Michael Saunders or the importing of someone else).
But this team has gone far too long (my entire Seattle tenure, to be exact) with little or no DH production. And that’s a slot that should be easiest to upgrade in offensively. Somehow, some way, the M’s keep messing it up. No more.
There is still room for run prevention upgrades on this team as well. The shortstop position has been a defensive liability as well and a healthy Jack Wilson (at less money than he’s pegged to make per year) could help fix that. So could more consistent starting pitching from guys other than Felix Hernandez and Ryan Rowland-Smith (and a full year of Rowland-Smith instead of partial rotation seasons wouldn’t hurt either).
The building blocks are there, but the Mariners are nowhere near finished in the job at hand. Let’s not forget, they will very likely need a new third baseman as well, so this offense potentially could take a step back before it begins moving forward.
It will make for an interesting winter.
For now, enjoy the rest of the 2009 campaign.
The Mariners, shorthanded as they’ve been, have gotten at least one major part right. They know how to consistently compete.
And now, it’s up to the front office to ensure they aren’t doing it with one hand tied behind their back in 2010.

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