<img alt="IMG_2415.JPG" src="http://blog.seattletimes.nwsource.com/mariners/assets_c/2012/05/IMG_2415-thumb-608×456-32309.jpg” width=”608″ height=”456″ class=”mt-image-left” style=”float: left; margin: 0 20px 20px 0;” />
Didn’t want to write about today’s game right away, given the flurry of thoughts running through my mind that needed to be sorted out. So, I figured I’d give it a few hours. Needless to say, manager Eric Wedge is ticked off at his team. He should be. That was an all-too-winnable game given away by relief pitchers who kept walking hitters at the wrong time and hitters who just could not put the Cleveland Indians away when they had the chance.
All that and the Mariners were still positioned for a win in the 11th inning until Brandon League gave up two runs and turned a 5-4 lead into a 6-5 loss. You can see the Indians celebrating their walkoff win in the photo above.
And yeah, Wedge is ticked. But not just at his team. He’s ticked at the circumstances that now have him trying to juggle a bunch of worn-down-looking players night after night until he hits upon a winning combo. And the thing is, he’s running desperately short of pieces and options with no cavalry in sight.
Remember, please, for next winter when we have this same discussion. The time for the cavalry to come charging in is during the off-season when teams have the opportunity to immediately upgrade themselves via free agency or trade. Trying to do so now, in-season, is still possible but far more difficult. Wedge was clamoring all winter long for some veteran pieces to help both the pitching staff and the position players.
What he got was the best Seattle’s ownership was willing to spend on. They passed on big-ticket upgrades. They passed on medium-ticket upgrades. They passed on just about everything but the bargain basement, which proved disastrous in middle relief (most imports either cut or hurt ) and now is a mixed bag in the rotation. Maybe they didn’t pass on upgrades altogether, but the end result was the same. They didn’t get the job done and bring players in. On the field, they got a backup infielder in Munenori Kawasaki on the veteran front and that doesn’t really count. John Jaso is still arbitration eligible and he doesn’t count, either.
And the result is, the Mariners now have to pretty much go it with no veteran presence outside of Ichiro on the field and Kevin Millwood in the rotation. And Miguel Olivo once he’s healthy again because the rest of the players –despite their age — are too inexperienced at MLB or don’t play enough to be an impact presence off the field.
Good luck with that, by the way.
And so, yeah, Wedge should be a bit miffed. But that’s why he earns the big bucks. And whatever happens next, it’s pretty much going to have to come from the group of “kids” everyone wanted to see. Which isn’t entirely a problem, since it’s a rebuilding year. But Wedge has been warning, going back to last season, that you can’t overplay the “kids” or it will hurt their development.
We saw the “kids” run out of gas last August and September when left to play pretty much all by themselves with no Jack Cust, Jack Wilson, Chone Figgins, etc. etc. etc. to “steal” playing time from them. Wedge had chats with several of his young players last fall and over the winter about better conditioning themselves for the long haul of a 162-game MLB season.
And now, we’re going to get a look at who’s in this thing for the long haul. We’re going to see who the drivers of this bus are and who the passengers will be. Let me tell you, the Mariners front office had best be taking notes because this is already looking like another 95-loss season and it was not supposed to be that way.
This plan can’t keep taking on the characteristics of a lab experiment, mixing and matching one year, shaking things in the beaker another year, trying one idea the following season, then hoping something else works the next. This team is barely recognizable from 2009, when the 85-win Mariners chose to “add talent” at the trade deadline rather than pick up pieces earlier that would help them stay in contenton prior to a late-July collapse.
That “talent” they collected is no longer in the organization. Gone are Ian Snell, Jack Wilson and Luke French. While Mauricio Robles is still in the organization someplace, his name barely gets mentioned any more.
So, as I was saying, rebuilding is fine. But there’s been a whole lot of wasted time in the interim.
Once again, it’s not me you have to satisfy. There were 12,000 and change on hand here in Cleveland today to watch a first-place ballclub defeat the Mariners again on a beautiful, sunny afternoon. Some excuse-makers will note that it was a school day, or a work day. True that. But there were also 12,000 and change here on a beautiful, sunny evening last night. Oh yeah, right. It was a school night and a work night.
Some of the more foolish or newer baseball fans will claim that Cleveland is a “bad baseball town”. Be careful, those of you who do that. Wasn’t too long ago they were packing what was then called Jacobs Field for years worth of sellout baseball in the 1990s and early last decade.
And then, rebuilding happened. One decade and one playoff appearance later — with a lot of suffering in between — the Indians now play in front of the most empty seats in baseball on any given home date.
Start pointing the “bad baseball town” finger at Cleveland, you might wake up one morning in 2015 and wonder why folks are pointing it Seattle’s way if the M’s happen to be back at .500 or so and challenging for the division. Some might wonder why only 12,000 and change are at Safeco Field, if indeed current downward trends continue.
Trust me, I saw it firsthand in Montreal, a town with plenty of baseball history where fans finally got fed up with how baseball did business. Plenty of people south of the border who had no idea what they were talking about called Montreal — the place where Jackie Robinson was most accepted on a minor league stage out of arguably any place in North America — a bad baseball town.
So, just be careful. All I’m advising.
And the M’s front office had best be careful and start to figure out which of these “kids” are really a part of the future. Those who aren’t? Time to start planning something else. I mean, what’s the plan for center field? Are we really going to build around a plan that involves Franklin Gutierrez in any more off-seasons? He’s had a real tough go of it and a lot of bad luck. But there’s that and then there’s realistically planning your team.
So, who on this team can go it alone among the “kids”?
My money’s on Dustin Ackley. He’s finally turning things around a bit after a slow start. I don’t think he’s going to crash and burn in August.
I like what Kyle Seager has been able to consistently do. He’s still a perceived threat every time he steps to the plate, unlike some other guys in this lineup.
We’re seeing some numbers come falling back down to pretty low levels. I give Jesus Montero a pass because it’s his first year and he’s learning the rigors of catching. But his numbers are nowhere near acceptable, with a sub-.280 OBP and a sub-.700 OPS. He’s fading as he catches more often and the team is stuck, unfortunately, because Miguel Olivo is hurt and John Jaso isn’t a guy anyone’s sure can really play every day either without his numbers tumbling.
But again, there’s no safety net. Those two will have to go it alone for a couple of weeks more. Now is not the time to fade.
Justin Smoak, on the other hand, is in his third year of serious playing time. He has to start putting it together, switch-hitter or not.
Brendan Ryan got on base four times today. He’s been in a slump and now he has to pull out of it. He hasn’t quit and can’t because he’s one of the few 30-and-over position players and again, there is no safety net. Kawasaki isn’t good enough to play every day.
Alex Liddi is starting to swing and miss a lot more.
Mike Carp has not looked like the guy we saw last year. He’s had flashes and is coming off injury, so we’ll have to wait and see.
Michael Saunders showed something this series. He’s had a tough go of it lately, but if Gutierrez can’t be counted on this year — and really, if he’s back beore the all-star break and playing well, that will be a bonus — then Saunders is all they’ve got.
On the pitching side, Hector Noesi showed me something today. Noesi put his team in a position to win the game and that is what counts. He had some command struggles, but them pitched wonderfully to work out of it. That’s better than in New York last week, where he gave up a string of extra-base hits to fall behind 4-0, then 5-0, then pitched wonderfully after that, having already done so up until the knocks.
Small difference, but big result. I liked the Noesi I saw today. Didn’t let the Indians up off the mat like he did the Yankees.
The Mariners need more guys like that. Guys who will pin opponents to the floor and, like Ryan said after today’s game, step on their throats.
Finish them off.
This team is like a cheap wine right now. Palatable enough for a while, but with a bad finish.
We’re about to separate the vintage grapes from the blending ones. Hang on for the ride because it could get ugly.
And hopefully, with whatever comes next in 2012, this front office and ownership — no, not letting them off-the-hook that easy — figures some things out this winter and takes this plan on a huge step forward before Opening Day of 2013.
Because from what I’m seeing, they’re still playing with beakers in the lab right now. From where I sit, contention by 2014 is looking like a real longshot, no matter how good the Class AA pitchers are. You can keep talking about the future and hoping guys blossom. But at some point, you have to start seeing some indications that guys like Smoak — further along in the process — are going to be here in three years, or five years.
You can’t keep changing the names, shuffling the deck and waiting for drafts to make the big leagues in five or six years. That’s not rebuilding. That’s buying time. That’s stalling, if nothing else but treading water happens in the interim.
This team didn’t add enough good pieces this off-season to help this youth-laden roster. And now the “kids” will be forced to go it alone because there is no rescue posse on its way. Wish them luck. We’re about to learn a whole lot more about what they’re made of.