Mariners manager Eric Wedge gathered the team behind closed doors prior to today’s pregame batting practice and tried to rally his troops for what could be a tough four months ahead if things don’t begin to change in a hurry.
If you heard my segment on Sports Radio KJR this morning (found in box below), you’ll know I said this team has about two weeks to turn things around or the season will be lost. This wasn’t just some arbitrary date I picked. Part of my reasoning is, I still think this team is much better than it has shown so far and has the ability to rally if it can get some decent pitching outside of Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. You’ve got two top starters, not to mention a bunch of veterans who are performing either at or eyond expectations. What this team needs is to stop having injuries at key moments and — more importantly — to get at least one or two more solid performances out of young players. I don’t think that’s too much to ask, and for me, Michael Saunders and Justin Smoak are two prime candidtes for much better returns on the team’s investment.
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But now, the players have to actually go out and do it. They have to walk the walk, so to speak.
All those tough rough trips in a brutal opening two months both schedule and opponent-quality-wise are now done. You might remember me saying on my last KJR show that a veteran player told me at spring training that if the Mariners could survive the first two months, they would be OK.
Well, they haven’t exactly “survived” to date, since they are nine games under .500. So, things have to change as of right now. The squad is back home and tonight faces a 24-30 team with a struggling offense. After that, you’ve got a stumbling Yankees team that hasn’t been the same since the Mariners took two of three at Yankee Stadium three weeks back. Then, you’ve got the Houston Astros.
So, that’s 10 games. Want to begin a long, slow climb back to .500? Well, you can start lopping huge chunks off that gap right here and right now. Blow this chance, though, as the Mariners just did on the road, and the season is just about done. There comes a point when a team simply digs too big a hole to climb out of. We’ll pretty much know by June 20, when the Mariners finish a series in Anaheim, where this club is headed. Whether it will carry this pace on for the final half of the season, or whether Seattle has the ability to make a move and be something more.
Right now, any thought of being more is all just talk. Talk doesn’t mean much anymore. Here’s what Wedge had to say about today’s meeting.
“Really, for the rest of the way schedule-wise, it’s about as normal as it can get,” Wedge said. “You talk about home-and-away travel, off-days…we’ve weathered that storm here in the first two months, so that should work well for us the next four months.”
As for his players and the main theme of what Wedge told them in the meeting: “I just wanted to just talk about where we’re at,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of tough losses here these first couple of months. More so than I’ve seen. And I’m proud of the way they’ve handled it. They stood up to it, they came out with energy and were fired up the next day.
“We were in a position to win four games on this road trip and got snakebit in a couple of them,” he added. “We’ve had a few trips like that. You work hard to put yourself in a position to win ballgames and more times than not, good things are going to happen. They’ve got a great dynamic in that locker room. We’re banged up right now. I think we’ve got five guys from our Opening Day lineup that aren’t in there right now, ut it gives opportunities for other guys to step up. It gives opportunities for guys in AAA to step up. So, it’s just about staying the course. Coming out here and working hard to get this first one, working hard to win the series and working hard to keep getting better.
“But the intangibles are what I’ve been really proud of and we’ve got to continue to be better. Be more consistent with our lineup. Be more consistent with our starting pitching and our bullpen and different areas of our club. But come to the ballpark and keep doing it the right way. If you come to the ballpark and keep doing it the right way, I’m a big believer that, over time, things will work out for the best.”
But are the Mariners actually getting better?
That’s what we’re about to find out. As fired-up as they’ve come out at times, they also lost 10-0 yesterday in Minnesota and didn’t show up for a series in Anaheim two weeks ago.
Wedge feels they are better. At this stage, he’d better hope they are because the future doesn’t bode well for him if he’s merely whistling in the dark this time.
“I mean, we won five out of six series,” he said. “That’s getting better right there. And then again, you have some tough luck. You’ve got to see it for what it is. And then you go around, to a man. We had to make some decisions in regards to some guys at AAA and we feel like that’s a good thing and they’re going to get better for that. And then you look at the younger players. They’re definitely getting better. You like to see that. I think the starting pitching is starting to be a little more consistent. Which is good. You put yourself in a position to win ballgames and good things will happen over time.”
The part about the younger players getting better is debatable, though as I said the team will clearly benefit from Saunders and Smoak taking off if they can. Smoak is hurt for now but Saunders is in the lineup tonight.
As for the starting rotation getting better, that’s a bit of a leap considering yesterday’s 10-0 demolition of Jeremy Bonderman. But it’s true that Aaron Harang has looked better his last two times out. A lot of this team’s fate hinges on Joe Saunders, who goes tonight.
So, as I said, we’ll see. If this team is going to make it’s move, now is the perfect time to start. There haven’t been many perfect times yet and there won’t be many more ahead if this club falls double-digits under .500.
Michael Morse still isn’t back from that hamstring issue. The team will look to get him in the lineup by Wednesday afternoon, either at DH or first base.
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