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Daily coverage of the Mariners during the season and all year long.

May 5, 2011 at 11:11 PM

Smoak and mirrors offense? Sure, but Mariners won tonight because of defense

NOTE: If you missed Geoff Baker Live! tonight, catch it in the video replay above. A viewer asked me about David Aardsma and whether the M’s are now “dragging their feet” with his recovery because Brandon League is doing so well. Here is a clip of my response. Another asked about the continued struggles on offense by Michael Saunders, who simply is not connecting on the hittable pitches. This answer about the M’s year-old revamp of their weight-training regimen contains a bit about what they need OPS-wise from players and the good job Luis Rodriguez has done. I was also asked whether I think the M’s will re-sign Erik Bedard for next year.
Now, on to the post…
Yeah, I know. The Mariners are going to have to find somebody other than Justin Smoak to carry the offense at some point. Ichiro has done a pretty good job, but truthfully, this winning run by the Mariners began and has continued primarily because of Smoak.
The M’s had just eight hits tonight and Smoak notched three of them on a home run, a double that would have been out of most parks and then a single. Call it Smoak and Mirrors for the offense, since the M’s have scored just three runs per game on average since heading to Boston last Friday but are 4-2 over that span.
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So, something else is getting it done. Yeah, the pitching has been stellar, and Jason Vargas was full value for the win with 7 2/3 quality innings of one-run ball. The M’s only needed half of the four-man bullpen tonight, with Jamey Wright logging one out in the eighth and Brandon League getting three more in the ninth.
But the real deal tonight was the defense. Vargas wasn’t overpowering, with only three strikeouts. Colby Lewis had 10 on the other side. But Vargas was ahead where it mattered — on the scoreboard — because he used the defenders behind him to haul in fly balls early and then got some needed grounders once he got rolling.
Only two or three plays really stood out tonight. But in a close game, you have to make them. Jack Wilson made a great, diving stop in the fifth of a Julio Borbon grounder headed to right field with one out and a runner on.
Instead of runners at the corners, Wilson threw to first for the second out of the inning and Vargas escaped trouble with a runner stranded at second.
I thought the biggest defensive play of the night came from Vargas himself. Ian Kinsler had just doubled home a run with one out in the eighth in a 3-1 game when Elvis Andrus tried to bunt for a hit. Vargas raced for the ball in the grass, third base side of his mound, then pivoted and threw a rocket to first base. It got there a split-second ahead of Andrus or else there could have been big problems that inning.
“It’s tough to get over there and then turn and make a long throw, especially with a guy that can run pretty good,” Vargas said. “To get that out, especially when we didn’t get the first one…I think if we don’t get that, it could really change the inning.”
In fact, those were the types of plays the M’s weren’t making earlier this season when games did indeed change on them in a hurry. Vargas did drop a chopper to his left earlier in the inning on what was ruled a single. But that was really the only play we didn’t see the M’s make all night.

Brendan Ryan came up big in the ninth, ranging deep to his right for a ball in the hole at shortstop. Remember, these Rangers can hit the ball out at any time. You let even one guy on with a two-run lead, the game can easily be tied on the next pitch.
“Defense is a separator for us,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “When you’re playing tight games, and you’re playing them all year long, you’ve got to catch the ball and you can’t give up extra outs.
“Even a little play like Brendan Ryan there…those are the things that can sometimes be overlooked. But they sure as hell aren’t overlooked if you don’t make the play.”
The M’s made the plays tonight. They’ll have to make a bunch more of them if this continues to be a Smoak and Mirrors offense.
But hey, they earned the victory. They are three back of the Angels and two back if the second-place Rangers.
And they’ve bought themselves a bit of time — not much, but a bit — to find someone other than Smoak who can deliver the big blows.
Yeah, Luis Rodriguez and Ryan had some key doubles tonight. The team needs more of that from elsewhere because — as right as Wedge is in what he says — no team is going to play flawless ball night after night.
The M’s need to start scoring more. But for now, they’ll take the series win. It’s nice to see them playing better, cleaner baseball.

Comments | Topics: Brendan Ryan


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