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July 21, 2011 at 4:32 PM

Trying to make a Mariners franchise tougher

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Returning to Toronto this week after leaving five years ago, it was tough not to reflect on how things have gone in Seattle and what I’ve noticed.
For example, the 2006 Mariners made those Asdrubal Cabrera and Shin-Soo Choo swaps just weeks before my arrival, then dropped 11 in a row to erase any hope of contending.
In 2007, I watched the Mariners contend until late August and then lose 15 of the next 17 games to fall out of it.
Come 2008, the Mariners were going through the motions and capped off a miserable season by dropping 12 in a row in September.
Now, here we are, watching a Mariners team that, 15 days ago, entered a game in Oakland looking for a series sweep and sitting only 2 1/2 games out of first place. Then, another 12-game losing streak.
What is it about this franchise and epic streaks? Is there something in the air? Something in the clubhouse? I’ve seen contending teams, out-of-it teams, rookies, veterans and completely different faces from year to year go out in a Mariners uniform and choke it up big-time.
Is there a connection? I asked manager Eric Wedge pre-game today why streaks like this happen. Why a simple string of two or three defeats in a row can mushroom into something that derails a season like this has.
Wedge mentioned the obvious stuff about how “If you don’t score you can’t win” and noted how zero offense has contributed to the bulk of the streak. And then, he added, there were some mistakes the past two days.
But then, as he was winding up, he mentioned: “I can’t say it enough, our guys have got to be tougher. I do believe that’s a big part of it. If they can toughen up a bit from this and we can get something out of it, we’ll work to the point where something like this doesn’t happen again.
“You’ve got a bunch of young kids out there. You’ve got veterans that aren’t performing. It’s a bad combination.”
Fast forward to the end of today’s game.

Wedge blames the veterans most for what’s been going on. He’s held them accountable, sat them out for poor performance and generally left the kids alone. That’s why, he told me after the game, he put a veteran-filled lineup out there today. He wanted them to come through and end this streak. And if they didn’t wind up doing that, he knew before the game that he was going to have some choice words for them.
Those words came later, from behind a locked clubhouse door.
When he was done, Wedge addressed the media.
“We’ve got to get tougher,” Wedge said. “This game will eat you up if you don’t get tougher. We fought back today but we’ve got to do a better job from inning to inning. Each man has to come to the ballpark each and every day and figure out how to help us win a ballgame.”
He added: “Each man has to come out there and do everything that they need to do to help us win a ballgame. The veterans need to be better, without a doubt. Performance-wise, leadership-wise. And the young kids. They’re here to learn on the job and that’s part of it. But we’ve got to get tougher, that’s the bottom line.”
In closing, he said his players need to go into Fenway Park with some attitude tomorrow.
“You’ve got to have a positive mindset. You’ve got to walk around with some charisma and some confidence and a little bit of swagger to you. These are the best of the best. You walk out there and you step on that field, you damn sure better feel like you’re one of them.”
But talk is one thing. The players, as you can see in our newspaper game story, agree with Wedge that toughness and swagger are missing.
Wedge can’t do anything about the past and the collapses of other M’s teams. He insists that every streak has a different story to it.
But this toughness thing has come up before. Some of these M’s teams the past five years I’ve covered them, have been big on talk, big on whining and quite a bit short on toughness.
Don’t know if it’s an organizational culture that allowed that kind of mentality to thrive or what, but here we are: in the midst of another epic losing streak. The fourth in six seasons here.
There isn’t much in common between the M’s teams that have done this. Faces and names have mostly changed.
But the losing hasn’t. The ability to chuck it all and fall off a cliff is still there.
Is it a coincidence? Or is it something Wedge and his coaches can fix? We’re about to find out. Then, as usual, we’ll see what happens next year.



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