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

May 24, 2012 at 9:30 AM

This next Mariners series is huge…for the Los Angeles Angels

NOTE: For those who missed it, here’s the audio from my radio host debut last night on Sports Radio KJR. We got to talk some Mariners for an hour. My apologies to the callers I kept cutting off. It was my nerves, not you. Not used to this, but getting there.
Something about the 2012 Los Angeles Angels keeps reminding me of the 2008 Seattle Mariners. Maybe it’s the fact the Angels are in last place in the AL West.
Yep, that’s a good start.
But it’s also the money part of it. Remember, the 2008 M’s became the first $100-million payroll team to lose 100 games. They spent nearly $118 million that year, bringing in Carlos Silva, paying Erik Bedard after the trade, continuing to pay Jose Vidro and others.
Well, the Angels have spent over $150 million on this year’s team, so yeah, it’s easy to find similarities there too. Vernon Wells has not performed and now he’s hurt. Albert Pujols is the other big payroll culprit and he’s hitting like a guy who’s hurt.
For me, though, the biggest similarity between the 2012 Angels and the 2008 Mariners so far has been the psychology and the way they’ve gone about — or not gone about — handling the pressure of expectations placed on them.
After all, the way that pressure is dealt with can often mean the difference between where a team should finish versus how it actually does finish.
I don’t know of anybody out there who predicted the 2008 Mariners would lose 101 games. Even the most skeptical of analysts felt they were a team capable of roughly 77-83 wins. So, how did they win only 61?
Simple. A baseball season is a living, breathing organism subject to change. It is not a pre-determined event where every player has stats spit out at birth and where expectations will be met regardless of outside, human factors. It works that way on an individual level — which is how a guy with a Doug Fister skillset can morph into a pitcher who impacts a playoff push — as well as on a group level through a team.
Every baseball player is constantly evolving, forever trying to better himself. Some succeed at it and some do not. Works that way with teams as well.
And the Angels in 2012 have gone about trying to make their “team” better by employing the same playbook used by the 2008 Mariners. And this weekend, much like those 2008 Mariners, the Angels have reached a tipping point. A fork in the road, if you will.
Photo Credit: AP

First, the playbook. The Angels have already had the “Team Meeting” in April that those Mariners back in 2008 tried to employ. Not the regular team meetings that all clubs have regardless of expectations.
No, the official, trademarked, trumpeted-to-the-fans-and-media team meeting designed to show the world that, yes, there is an appropriate level of concern throughout the clubhouse that things are not going according to plan. The meeting that shows others — and reminds the players — that they are accountable for not living up to expectations. A meeting that lets all 25 players know that, hey, it’s time to get serious and stop messing around.
Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
In the case of the Mariners in 2008 and the Angels in 2012, it didn’t work.
How do we know? Easy, because they moved on to Step 2 of the playbook: Fire the hitting coach.
For the Mariners in 2008, Jeff Pentland took the fall when the offense faltered early.
This year, for the Angels, Mickey Hatcher caught the blame and paid the price with his job.
Doesn’t matter whether politics between Hatcher and Pujols played any type of role. The outcome is the same. Does anyone honestly believe the Angels would have fired Hatcher if the team was in first place? If the answer is no, then stop blaming Pujols. Hatcher was fired because The Playbook said he had to be. It’s what teams do when they have huge expectations and lose.
So, following the same playbook used by the 2008 Mariners and 2012 Angels, we’ve now come to the proverbial May crossroads.
You don’t win any championships in May, but you sure as heck can lose one.
For me, those 2008 Mariners were cooked after a mid-May series in Texas. And this year, these Angels will be toast in the AL West and likely in any playoff consideration, if they go out and blow the series this weekend.
The Mariners in 2008 were nine games under .500 when they arrived in Texas and eight games out in the AL West. These Angels are only five games under .500 but are still a hefty seven out in the division.
Back in 2008, the Texas team the M’s were facing was not the modern-day Rangers. Those Rangers were still a bad club. A bottom feeder that teams like the M’s were supposed to feast on. That three-game series was seen as a golden opportunity for the M’s to make inroads in the division race.
Instead, the Mariners dropped an extra-innings slugfest in a game started by “ace” Bedard in the opener. Then, they saw Felix Hernandez get his lunch handed him in the second game.
Game, set, match, season.
Didn’t matter that the M’s won the series finale in extras. They’d blown their chance. Failed to take advantage of the division opponent they were supposed to beat. They managed not to lose a series against the awful San Diego Padres right after that, but then got destroyed on a long road trip and the season was unofficially over.
But for me, that Texas series was the turning point. That’s where the 2008 Mariners told the world “Nope, not this year!”. That’s where the train went off the rails. The road trip after? That merely told us how bad things were really about to get.
And if I’m Mike Scioscia, I don’t want to get to that next stage of The Playbook because if it does, watch out. Don’t care if he’s got a contract extension until 2056. Botching a $150 million payroll in epic fashion like those 2008 Mariners botched their $117 million payroll will often cost most managers their job regardless of tenure or extensions.
So, how do the Angels avoid heading in that direction?
They have to beat the division opponent they are supposed to beat. In this case, it’s the Mariners team currently fighting with them for rights to the AL West cellar.
Doesn’t matter that the Mariners have won five of six. Or that Felix Hernandez will pitch in this series. Or that the M’s won’t have to face Jered Weaver.
That’s just too bad for the Angels, isn’t it? You think it was easy for the 2008 Mariners to try to win a series in Texas? It’s never easy for the Mariners to win in Texas, regardless of how good or bad the Rangers are.
But the Angels can’t complain about degrees of difficulty now. They should have thought about that before they went out and botched the month of April. Before they continued kind of flopping around, neither here nor there, in May.
This is it, folks.
The Angels now have four games against the Mariners to try to decide whether they are going to do anything this season, or go home. This is it. Teams that are going places in any season have to win series like these. This is how they cut into seven-game gaps between them and division leaders.
Sure, they could split the four games, hang on and hope for maybe a second-wild-card spot. The 2008 Mariners didn’t have the advantage of that, a modification to baseball rules that essentially lets every mediocre team in baseball hang around the playoff fringes until well after their real expiry date.
But if that’s what the 2012 Angels are really about, that in itself will be a statement. That will tell us plenty after this weekend is over.
No, teams in peril like these Angels are either step up and make a statement right here and right now, in series like these. Or, they take another whupping, show the world what they’re really made of and then slink off and go home, never to be heard from again in any discussion of teams that matter.
We’re about to find out.
Find out whether the Angels can be contenders. Or, whether they’re highly-paid frauds like the 2008 Mariners were. And if you thought it was a soap opera here back in 2008, whoo-boy, I can’t wait to see the circus tent collapse in Anaheim if this $150-million squad keeps ripping pages out of that playbook.
So, yeah, this isn’t just another series. If you’re a fan of the game, this one is real interesting.
And if you’re a fan of the Mariners, this is where your team gets to drive a stake through the other guy’s heart.
The Angels will never admit to it, mind you. But trust me, if they wind up doing an autopsy of a disastrous Angels season come October, it will probably involve them taking a lethal bullet this weekend.



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