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June 29, 2011 at 5:44 PM

Mariners hitting a midway-point crossroads in their season

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Believe it or not, the season is already halfway done for the Mariners. And so, at this rate, the team will finish 78-84 or so, which is a good deal better than many of us thought it would.
There certainly have been a number of first-half highlights, including the fact that games have become meaningful again to a lot of folks. You have the onset of the new King’s Court in Safeco Field, complete with Larry Bernandez (seen in the video below) and others who have made the stadium a more fun place to be.

And for some folks, that will be enough. Some folks figure this is the team’s destiny. To finish around .500, in third place and building for the future.
The Mariners themselves — the guys putting on the uniforms — don’t see it that way. But then again, the players are always the last to know, right? And I suppose, in a way, it’s up to those players to make a stand right here if they believe this season is supposed to be something more.
They have the San Diego Padres coming in this weekend and will be anywhere from three to 4 1/2 games out of first place by then. They are at 3 1/2 right now but the Rangers will play twice prior to Seattle taking the field again.
If the gap grows much beyond that, it will be a moot point to discuss mid-season additions. This club won’t be adding anything unless they’re right there. The temptation to start dealing away veterans in order to acquire more future pieces will be too great. That’s really been the plan all along, until this whole “contending” thing sort of got in the way, so, if the Mariners want their upper management to even consider altering a pre-destined course, they’ll have to make a stronger case than this.
Seattle finished June at 11-16 and losers of eight of 11. They’ve scored three runs or fewer in 16 of the last 22. That’s not a contender. That’s a pretender. It’s been a rapid-quick fall from grace and the Mariners — just a game out of first place less than a week ago — will have to start doing something much differently on offense if they expect their destiny to change.
They don’t have all season, either. The trade deadline is a month away. They have a few weeks, at best, to get their collective act together.
“I haven’t been here long,” said Josh Bard, who had half of his team’s four hits against Braves starter Derek Lowe today. “But I know that we’ve got a chance to be a good team. We’ve got to start giving ourselves some leads and start letting our pitching do it. Because we’ve got a really good bullpen and our starters are doing a great job every night.
“Guys are working hard, but I think we’ve got to go out there and set the tone, get some runs early. It seemed like today we kind of waited around for them to do something.”
Like I said. The players are sometimes the last to know. Bard may very well be correct. A lot of us see the potential damage this team can do with even a semi-competent offense. But the Mariners are running out of time. The time for talk is done. The time for action is upon them.

Mariners manager Eric Wedge said after the game that Erik Bedard’s injury is just a Grade 1 sprain, which is the least serious. It’s on his push-off leg and he injured it in the latter stages of Monday night’s loss.
In other words, Bedard should be back right after the break. He’ll miss Sunday’s start and then another one next weekend in Anaheim. But that’s supposedly it.
“We’re hopeful that with treating it and getting on top of it right away, that we’ll be able to get him back at that point in time,” Wedge said.
Sitting Bedard isn’t the best thing for the M’s at this point. But it’s also not the worst thing long-term. They needed to slow him down a bit to limit his innings, which keep piling up after a near-two-year layoff. This gives them an excuse to do just that and use the roster spot to get another catcher, Jose Yepez, up here.
“I don’t think it’s anything too serious,” Wedge added. “I think it’s something that, we need to nip it in the bud. I think it’d be pushing a bad play to send him back out there. Because there is something going on in there. I think it’s mild. But it’s enough to where we need to make sure we make this just a two-week thing and hopefully get him back out.”
I ran into Miguel Olivo in the hallway. He told me he’s fine and should be back in there on Friday. Wedge said he’s day-to-day.
But Chris Gimenez isn’t doing so well. Wedge said his oblique strain is closer to a Grade 3 injury, which is getting more serious and will likely keep him out for quite a bit after his 15-day minimum on the DL.
So, this team will have to endure. It will have to overcome some setbacks. That’s what winners do.
They need some help. Maybe they’ll get it from Franklin Gutierrez, who had a hit and scored a run today.
Perhaps from Dustin Ackley, whi hit his second career homer, this one off lefty Jonny Venters. It was the first extra-base hit given up by Venters against a lefty hitter all season.
Ackley is now 6-for-8 with a homer, triple and a double off lefties.
“Usually, I see righties a lot better,” Ackley said. “It’s only just lately that, with the lefties, for some reason I’ve felt really good off of them and found some holes with them.”
Hey, the M’s will take the help wherever they can get it. They aren’t getting any from the front office as of yet. And probably won’t for at least a few weeks. It’s going to be up to the M’s to keep themselves afloat prior to then.
And it won’t be easy.
“You’re going to go through stretches like this,” Wedge said. “We’ve already been through stretches like this. It’s how you handle them that makes the difference…you’ve got to be strong, you’ve got to be honest with yourself in regard to you evaluate yourself individually. And I’ve got to do the same thing with different areas of our club and with our entire club.”
It figures that, after the Padres, Seattle gets one of those Oakland-Angels trips. Never an easy time, no matter what happened in Oakland earlier this season.
And then, after that, the All-Star Break and the Rangers roll into town.
The goal for the M’s right now? Survive until that Rangers series, then take their shot.
That means taking care of business against San Diego and finding a way to get it done in California.
This is indeed a crossroads. Exactly halfway through this 162-game season, we’re about to see exactly what the second half of it will be all about. It’ll either be about contending this year, or moving on to 2012.
But we won’t have to wait very long to find out.



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