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September 18, 2011 at 5:18 PM

Wanted for 2012: Mariners who can finish

Mariners manager Eric Wedge had a lot to say prior to today’s 3-0 loss to the Texas Rangers, punctuated by 14 more strikeouts.
Wedge was talking pre-game about the latest neck problems for Brendan Ryan and said it was certainly “an issue” for the shortstop moving forward. Then, Wedge let fly with this:
“A lot of these guys are going to have to do a better job in the off-season,” Wedge said. “We’re going to have a lot of discussion with some of these guys about the work, the time, the effort and the discipline they’re going to have to commit to in order to be able to come out here and play 150 games if we need them to play 150 games.”
None of the usual “hey, he’s hurt, not his fault…yada, yada…” that passes for analysis too often in the Seattle baseball community. Many of you have paid close attention to what’s been going on with this team the past month or so and it’s tough not to arrive at the conclusion that the M’s peaked back in late August during that road trip to Cleveland.
That series with the Indians saw the M’s score about a month’s worth of their usual quota of runs.
Since then, they’ve gone 7-16.
That’s not how you finish. Young team or not, the M’s have collectively been breaking down, both physically and — judging by all the strikeouts, not all of them the aggressive, swinging kind — mentally as well.
And I’ll go a step further than Wedge and not pin in all on the young guys. The older Mariners haven’t exactly finished with a flourish. Ichiro looks better, but then again, it took him two thirds of the season to start hitting.
Miguel Olivo’s numbers have dropped off in the second half.
Franklin Gutierrez is done for the year after getting hurt.
Chone Figgins got hurt and is done for the year.
Ryan isn’t exactly in his first rodeo either. He’s been a regular player before. Played 139 games last year and 129 the year before.
Jason Vargas has looked better the last two starts, but he also took a nosedive stats-wise in the second half.
So, no, this isn’t all a rookie problem.
This is a “finishing” problem.

Not all of the injuries can be blamed on individuals. Sometimes, freakish things happen. But whether there’s fault involved or not — and there’s plenty of middle ground here — the end results are the same.
The Mariners, simply put, don’t finish very well. They haven’t finished well since I arrived here, whether it was dropping 15 of 17 in late August and early September of 2007 to fall out of the race, or nosediving after the all-star break in 2009 when in contention.
Yeah, they piled up 87 wins in 2007 and 85 wins in 2009.
Meaningless wins largely garnered when it didn’t matter. Meanwhile, they tanked to the tune of a 12-game September losing streak in their 101-loss season in 2008 and got swept at home by lowly Oakland last year to finish with 101 losses as well.
This has been a franchise that typically wins when the pressure has been removed from their “good” seasons, then falls apart altogether during the “bad” seasons.
Barely any of these Mariners were around in 2007-2009, but it’s the culture that’s been the problem. This has been a place where teams, good and bad, can lay down and take a snooze when a long season gets too long. Sometimes, they wake up in time to pad their year-end records and make things seem better than they really were.
Other times, they’re like the single guy who gets a girlfriend and just lets it all go, waistband, hair, teeth and all.
The M’s have struck out 97 times the last eight games. They whiffed 27 times the last two days. Wedge can protect them all he wants by saying he likes the aggressiveness and stuff, but you know what he’d really like?
Somebody to make contact with the freaking ball.
He can’t have that happen when players young and old look like they’re staggering to the finish line.
We’ve written about the team needing guys who can “finish” before. Wrote it after Erik Bedard was traded to the Red Sox, the same team that’s barely clinging to a two-game lead over Tampa Bay and could really use a boost in starting pitching. Bedard is hurt yet again, this time in both his knee and his lat.
Doesn’t matter whether the injuries are anyone’s fault or not. When a season is on the line, the guys who are perpetually getting hurt or dropping off performance-wise aren’t the ones you can rely on, plain and simple. The ones with the bodies that keep breaking down aren’t the ones you want to put the whole bag of marbles on.
Going forward, the M’s need guys who can finish, as we said. They don’t need Bedard and his constant injuries, no matter how well he pitches for five innings when he’s healthy.
That’s it on the Bedard topic.
Now, for the guys the team will be bringing back to Seattle, Wedge is not referring here to players who break their shoulders crashing into walls or get hurt by stuff beyond their control. He’s talking about the preventative stuff guys can do to properly condition and strengthen their bodies so they can finish.
Know who’s finishing this year? Doug Fister.
Last year, he couldn’t finish. So, he went out, did more weight lifting and endurance training so that, come September, he’d be strong enough to still look good on a mound. He’s one of the reasons the Tigers are going to the playoffs.
That’s what Wedge is talking about. Wedge made that obvious when he mentioned “body composition” as a target area for some of the players, then refered to the 20-plus pounds shaved off by Mike Carp with a lower fat, lower carbohydrate, higher protein eating regimen.
Carp’s body now has a much better composition of lean muscle versus fat and he’s quicker, stronger and finishing well.
Other guys? They need work.
Brendan Ryan doesn’t need a low fat diet. He’s pretty slim with plenty of lean muscle. But he may have to condition certain parts of his body better to absorb the wear and tear of playing shortstop.
Others, from looking around the clubhouse, wouldn’t hurt from a little change in routine.
Whatever it takes to get to the finish line. The young guys, of course, are still learning. Some of the older guys may have to change things.
And this team’s front office will have to do a better job of pinpointing guys who can finish. Guys that stay hurt year after year? Forget them and the bargain basement. If you want to be there in September, you need guys who will be standing upright once month No. 6 kicks in.
It doesn’t really matter for the M’s this season, other than whether they’ll lose 93 or 97, or somewhere in between. The young players will hopefully learn from this and do what’s needed to be better next time. Hasn’t always worked that way with prior Mariners younguns’ but that’s why — in theory — they brought Wedge here. To show them how to win. But whenever this team decides it will truly be playing to win something, finishing a season will be key.
Right now, the M’s just look finished.

Comments | Topics: Brendan Ryan, Chone Figgins


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