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

July 29, 2012 at 6:21 PM

Mariners will need these wins versus Royals to ride out rest of season

Some of you wrote in after yesterday’s game to complain that I wasn’t being celebratory enough about the Mariners defeating the Kansas City Royals for the third time in a row. Today, the Mariners completed their first four-game sweep at Safeco Field in 11 years, beating the Royals 7-6 to improve to 11-6 since the break.
The tough part about covering this team is trying to separate the real moments from the pretend ones. It has nothing to do with whether I like my job, or like the Mariners, or like the Royals, or even whether I like any of you.
It has to do with watching the games, trying to figure out patterns to what is happening and whether any of it bodes well for the future. If this team was in a pennant race, I’d certainly say that all of these wins are great because going 4-0 in a race is certainly preferable under any circumstances to 3-1, or 2-2 or 0-4.
But in seasons like this, where we long stopped looking at the standings — other than where top-five draft picks are concerned — it becomes tougher to distinguish meaningful wins from games that won’t matter at all a year from now. Look, at this point in the season, the Mariners needed this stretch of 7-1 baseball against the Royals to brace for what comes next.
Because this team needs to make some meaningful swaps in the next two days to help give a boost to this rebuilding plan. You’ve got three division rivals that have pulled away from the Mariners in the standings — two of which are outspending this team by a 2-to-1 margin now that the M’s are essentially a $55 million club with Ichiro gone and Chone Figgins never playing.
And those swaps are going to come by trading away pitching. I would not be surprised to see both Kevin Millwood and Jason Vargas leave and that will inevitably impact a squad in which starters have gone 7-1 with a 1.67 ERA over the last 11 games. So, yeah, padding the record a bit against a Royals team that was shockingly uncompetitive here the first two games, then gave away yesterday’s game with mistakes before finally playing some better ball today, really does help.
There was a point not too long ago where the M’s seemed a good bet to lose 100 games. That’s going to be difficult now after the recent wins versus the Royals and that’s a good thing because superficially, it’ll be a tough enough sell for this team with fans next season without all the stigma that comes with 100 losses.
Was there progress in this series?
Not much, until today. I’ll make an exception today because this was one game in which the Royals did play some comeptitive baseball all the way through, with a good start by Will Smith and some hitters — other than Billy Butler for once — who decided to show up and make life tough for Felix Hernandez from the get-go.
“I mean, that was a fight,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “And you knew it was going to be today. It was one of those games that maybe looked good (ahead of time) on paper, but you just knew, the last game of the series and you’ve got a young team over there, that they just weren’t going to go away.
“And they didn’t go away today. Both teams fought very hard. Both teams had to come back. But these are the types of games where you’re glad you’re the home team. You get those final at-bats if you need them.”
No arguments from me. This was a good ballgame. A tough ballgame. The Royals didn’t just show up ready to hand the M’s a win.
They made Seattle work for it. even after Kyle Seager made it 5-2 in the seventh with a two-run, bases-loaded single. The Mariners had to come back and score again in the bottom of the eighth after that Mike Carp double and then the good Trayvon Robinson bunt got things going.
Then, they had to hang on for dear life.
So, they earned this one.

But what the Mariners had not really done in the three games prior was “earn” any of the wins. Two of them came by default when the Royals did not show up ready to play, causing some friction within their own clubhouse, I’m told. Then came yesterday’s game where the Royals kept kicking the ball around anytime things got close.
And though it sounds nit-picky, it’s tough to like what the M’s did in Tampa Bay last weekend when they’d score a couple of runs the first two innings, then rely on the Rays’ offensive ineptness to get through the next seven frames. I mean, the Rays came into today tied with the M’s for the worst batting average (.231) in the league. Yeah, the M’s got the wins. But did it portend to anything real good? Nope. The M’s came home to face the Yankees, won the Felix game and lost two others in which they faced a team that could actually score.
Then, they played a Royals team where the starting pitchers buried KC the first two games and the hitters — other than Butler — didn’t bother showing up. Yesterday’s game should have been over by the third inning, but the M’s allowed the Royals to stay too close and didn’t get a hit after the fourth.
Today’s game was different because the M’s scored their usual early run. Then they kept scoring in the middle innings and added runs late when they needed. They didn’t take seven innings off on offense.
So, yeah, that bodes well. The ability to overcome a setback — something they didn’t do against New York, nor Tampa Bay, nor the first two games here — also bodes well.
That’s all part of the baseball equation. Am I very confident about this team going forward?
Well, Seager is.
“We’ve had confidence in each other the whole time,” Seager said. “We can have our ups and downs and everything but we’ve never lost faith in each other. We know we have really good pitching and we know we can be a good offensive team, too.”
Well, yeah, they can be in spurts. The Mariners averaged 6.5 runs per game against the Royals in the eight games they’ve played the last 13 days. But they averaged just 2.8 runs against everybody else in 16 games this month and entered the day with the worst-scoring offense in the American League.
So, if you want me to be “objective” — as many of you ask — about how this offense looks going forward, am I supposed to base that off a run total inflated against a team that’s fallen off a cliff pitching-wise the last month? Or off how the M’s are doing against everybody else.?
It becomes a tough call, because you hate to knock a team that’s 11-6 since the All-Star Break. But when you consider it’s 7-1 against the Royals, with two wins in Tampa Bay that won’t happen very often when you don’t score after the second inning, it all starts to get rather fuzzy.
It becomes especially tough in this market, where M’s fans are hungry for any signs that this team has taken a step forward. A balancing act between telling you want you want to hear, and trying to tell you what’s really going on out there.
Seager had three hits today. He came into the day batting .239. So, you tell me. How’s his season going?
The easy thing for me to do is tell you everything’s hunky-dory and that the M’s will continue lighting up the scoreboard against teams that actually show up to play each and every night. I truth, I saw some positive signs today, just as I have all year with Seager, Michael Saunders, Jesus Montero, even Brendan Ryan — who I think this team should re-sign for next year because he’s that good with the glove.
But I’m not going to be so quick with the kudos. Not for a team that’s been this bad for this long.
Kind of like the Royals did today, I’m going to make the Mariners earn it. Make them earn the praise. Don’t just hand them something after a rare sweep. Make them show they can sustain this type of play for several weeks at a time, against all types of opponents. They haven’t done that yet.
If they do, I’ll be the first to say so. But to be honest, I think this team needs to make some impact moves in coming days and then keep making some this winter.
They entered today’s game with Montero their best hitter at .265 and he has all types of struggles against righties. Nobody on this team has an OPS of .800 other than John Jaso and he’s a part-timer.
There is room for improvement. There is so much room for it where none of us should be willing to give it all away accolade-wise just yet.
So, yeah, this four-game sweep, if nothing else, buys the M’s time and some won-loss record room for the tough weeks that lie ahead when we’ll see whether all that off-season conditioning helps these young players avoid a physical and mental collapse like last year. Interesting times lie ahead.
I just wanted to share my thought process with you so that hopefully, it clears up any confusion some of you may have had about what I tend to look for in analyzing baseball games and stretches of play.
There will be many more analyses and many more games to come this year. And I’m sure I’ll be changing my opinion in various directions more than once. But let’s have something tangible happen first. Until then, like the Royals finally did today, make the Mariners earn it.
It’s the only way teams get better.

Comments | Topics: Brendan Ryan, Chone Figgins, Jesus Montero


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