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Mariners blog

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

Category: analysis
August 19, 2013 at 8:02 AM

A look at the Mariners one year later

Felix Hernandez was greeted by a sea of yellow at Safeco Field during a Supreme Court Night in the midst of an eight-game win streak. One year later, the Mariners are worse off on the field in terms of overall record and run differential. Photo Credit: AP

Felix Hernandez was greeted by a sea of yellow at Safeco Field during a Supreme Court Night in the midst of an eight-game win streak. One year later, the Mariners are worse off on the field in terms of overall record and run differential. Photo Credit: AP

One year ago this week, the Mariners were in the midst of an eight-game winning streak. Felix Hernandez had just thrown his perfect game and the fans came out in droves to fete him during a Supreme Court Night in which Safeco Field was turned in to a sea of yellow.

So, a snapshot, if you will, of the Mariners then and now:

123-game mark 2012: 59-64 (.480) record, 13 games behind division leader

123-game mark 2013: 57-66 (.463) record, 13 1/2 games behind division leader

 

Runs scored/allowed after 123 games:

2012: 483/483 (diff: 0)

2013: 493/579 (diff: -86)

Now, I realize that win-loss records don’t always tell the whole story. And that runs-scored versus runs allowed can take a drastic turn for the worse when you start breaking in young players by the busload. But when it comes to qualifying how much “better” or “worse” a team is getting, it helps to have some numbers to back it up. And nothing cuts to the heart of what’s going on with a team more than how many runs they are scoring versus how many they are preventing. And in the end, the only thing a baseball teams gets truly judged on is how many games it wins versus how many it loses.

In coming weeks, we should see Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln and/or president Chuck Armstrong step back into the public sphere and announce what they plan to do with general manager Jack Zduriencik and his contract, which is up after this season. And when they do so, hopefully there will be some rational explanation for the course they have chosen to take.

If they choose not to keep Zduriencik, then the numbers above will easily explain that decision.

But if the duo in charge of the Mariners decides to extend Zduriencik beyond this season, they will hopefully provide an explanation of their rationale for doing so despite the numbers that currently suggest the team has shown little-to-no improvement from 12 months ago. An explanation that goes beyond the “birth certificate” argument that it bodes well for a team’s future when you merely flood it with a new crop of untested 20-something players, to replace the old crop of younguns’ that couldn’t get the job done when it mattered from April-through-June.

Lincoln and Armstrong have resisted “changing horses midstream” before, much to their detriment. They got it wrong back in the winter of 2007-2008, when they held on to GM Bill Bavasi and manager John McLaren despite the 2007 team’s historic collapse from a wild-card spot in late August and early September. In the end, they fired Bavasi a few months into his fifth season in 2008.

If Zduriencik comes back, it will be for a sixth season.

There are arguments to be made for bringing Zduriencik back, the biggest being that Lincoln and Armstrong truly believe he is the best man suited to take the Mariners to the next level. I’ll let Lincoln and Armstrong make that case themselves, since it’s their job to so and such an argument is not necessarily a given, even if you truly believe Zduriencik has built a young core of players capable of challenging for a playoff spot somewhere down the road.

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Comments | More in analysis | Topics: felix hernandez; jack zduriencik; howard lincoln; chuck armstrong

July 23, 2013 at 10:28 AM

Mariners could change trade deadline plans if this keeps up

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One year ago today, the Mariners traded Ichiro and — coincidentally — went on to enjoy a winning post-All-Star stretch. That winning run had more to to with the weak caliber of consecutive opponents than anything sustainable.

Fast-forward 12 months to today, the Mariners have embarked on a similar winning stretch. They have gone 12-5 over the past 17 games while winning seven in a row — one victory shy of the eight straight they pulled off last August before running smack-dab into a bunch of playoff contenders and coming back down to Earth.

The difference now is, the Mariners haven’t been winning against mostly bad teams. They beat an Indians club last night that entered 1 1/2 games out of first place in the AL Central. Prior to that, yes, they swept the Astros and it’s about time they started doing what every other team in baseball has to that club. But they also dropped three of four — barely — to a first-place Boston club prior. And they beat the contending Reds and Rangers two of three apiece on the road before that.

So no, this isn’t like last year when they faced injury-decimated Royals and Blue Jays squads over and over. This time, the Mariners are actually scoring against decent pitching staffs. They hit two homers last night against a Cleveland squad that hadn’t given up a long ball since July 8.

Can it continue? Who knows? But just like last year, when you could actually see well ahead of time that the  Mariners might reel off eight in a row largely based on their schedule, you can look ahead right now and see a really big deal unfolding over the next week if things go Seattle’s way. In fact, it’s not inconceivable that they could be .500 even before the end of this weekend.

Right now, the Mariners are five games under .500, having whittled down the 12 under they were just seven games ago. Making up that type of ground is really tough to do so fast, but a .500 team usually has one massive winning streak in it and for the Mariners, this is it, baby. The big question now is how far they can take it. Tonight’s game against Cleveland is the one real question-mark, with Erasmo Ramirez taking the mound. His command has been off recently. But tomorrow, the Mariners will have Joe Saunders going and he’s looked sharp of late.

Split those games, you’ve got Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma kicking off four against a Twins team that does not play well on the road. Could the Mariners go 5-1 over the next six and be a game under .500? Sure they could. If they win tonight, they could go 6-0, extend the winning streak to 13 games and be a .500 team on Sunday.

I’m not trying to set them up for failure here. Just laying down the very real possiility of what might happen. They don’t have to go 6-0. If they’re a game under .500 come Sunday, two days before the trade deadline, that changes the entire dynamic of this season.

If you’d have asked the Mariners back in March what type of season they’d envisioned, being roughly .500 at the deadline with two months left to make an improbable wild-card run would be just about right. It’s taken them a very long time to get here and burying themselves a dozen games under .500 three days before the All-Star Break was certainly not part of their plan.

It was going to take winning 11 of 13, or 15 of 20 to pull out of that mess. But guess what? Against the odds — with help from an unexpected sweep of the Angels and better-than-forseen road showings versus Texas and Cincinnati — the Mariners are actually within the realm of pulling something like that off.

Does that change what this team should do come the July 31 trade deadline? If they’re within a couple of games of .500, it should. But maybe not in the way some of you think.

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Comments | More in analysis | Topics: ichiro; oliver perez; wild-card; trade deadline

July 18, 2013 at 8:13 AM

Be careful of how low you let that Mariners bar get lowered

As good as Nick Franklin was in June, he's been in a 10-game slump this month in which he's hit .136 with a plethora of strikeouts. The speed with which the newest Mariners additions pull out of their initial slumps could go a long way towards determining how valuable they'll be in coming seasons. Photo Credit: AP

As good as Nick Franklin was in June, he’s been in a 10-game slump this month in which he’s hit .136 with a plethora of strikeouts. The speed with which the newest Mariners additions pull out of their initial slumps could go a long way towards determining how valuable they’ll be in coming seasons. Photo Credit: AP

Last night on Sports Radio KJR (click box below to listen), I took a look at this oddly-Seattle phenomenon of how we continuously lower the bar for this Mariners team. We don’t do it for the Seahawks, mind-you, who many people I speak with locally insist must win a Super Bowl this year or else their season will be a disappointment.

Talk about setting yourself up for a fall. But I digress.

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The Mariners are in no such position with the local fanbase and much of the media. Turn on the radio these days, scan through the comments section on this blog or others, read some local newspaper guys and it’s tough to miss the proverbial bar getting lowered yet again for our baseball team.

At the start of the season, a .500 season seemed the common benchmark for what many — including myself — felt should happen for a squad that had the pleasure of playing 19 games against the terrible Houston Astros (on-pace for a 105-loss season despite a winning record against Seattle). And yet, when you listen to folks right now — giddy with excitement over another wave of young, largely unproven kids and an offensive uptick the past couple of weeks — they keep repeating that they will be satisfied with a season of anywhere between 73 and 78 wins.

Whoa! So, tell me, how exactly did we get there?

How did we get from an 81-season being the common consensus for minimal success to a 75-win season suddenly becoming fine? Especially when this team already won 75 games a year ago and had the added bonus this year of 19 games against Houston? Think one of the AL East teams wouldn’t kill for that now? But that’s where we’re at. The bar, it seems, continues to get lowered.

Look, I get that fans are excited about finally seeing the Mariners actually perform like they have a major league offense. I get that scoring six runs per game for a couple of weeks in July is better than the 3.5 or so runs per night they were scoring before. I get that the additions of Brad Miller, Nick Franklin and Mike Zunino have everybody gushing with future projections of glory.

But at what point does actual performance and the meeting of minimal .500 expectations start to matter? Is it really just as simple as calling up another batch of “kids” when a season goes off kilter and hitting the reset button? If so, what happens next year if the Mariners are a dozen games under in June? Do they call up all three of the “Big 3” and maybe Stefen Romero, hope they can hit for a few weeks and have the fanbase shrug and say that a 77-win season will be just fine?

I mean, fans and media can say and do what they please, I suppose. But at what point do we actually set the bar for minimal results and expect them to be achieved? Because I’ll tell you what will happen if we keep accepting these seasons where the introduction of young players to the process allows everything that happened before that to be forgotten.

That’s where a rebuilding plan goes from five years (right now) to six years, to seven years and beyond. At some point, this team has to show signs of it all working beyond just a few weeks of hot offense. So, I’m wondering when that point is. From all accounts, it won’t be this year, where the team will likely fail to reach .500 even with an Astros-inflated schedule.

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Comments | More in analysis | Topics: nick franklin; brad miller; mike zunino; jack zduriencik

July 10, 2013 at 12:25 AM

Another one that got away for a Mariners team without wins to spare

The Mariners kept on hitting tonight, but found another way to lose a winnable game and fall back to 10 games under .500 with the All-Star Break and key decisions looming.

The Mariners kept on hitting tonight, but found another way to lose a winnable game and fall back to 10 games under .500 with the All-Star Break and key decisions looming.

Sure, there were positives to take from this game, starting with the two-homer game from Kendrys Morales, the three-hit night by Brad Miller and all those runs again piled on by the Mainers — who have scored 19 in two games.

On the downside, one of their all-star pitchers, Hisashi Iwakuma, looks better suited to toss the Home Run Derby right now than the Mid-Summer Classic itself. That’s three more long balls allowed by Iwakuma tonight, eight in his last three starts and 10 in his last four outings. Yes, there is some kind of problem here.

“For the most part, I was missing location-wise,’’ Iwakuma said, through interpreter Antony Suzuki. “I caught too much of that part of the plate and that was the main issue today.’’

And the last month or so?

“I think my pitches have caught too much of the plate the last couple of starts,’’ Iwakuma said. “I need to work on that. I know I have time to make some adjustments and that’s what we need to do.’’

Well, he may have time to make those before his next outing. But the Mariners are running out of time to make this season into something more than just another training session for kids. They had generated all sorts of positive momentum coming off that road trip and after blowing the Red Sox off the field on Monday night. Then, they gave Iwakuma a 5-1 lead by the second inning of this one and…he tossed it away. Like so many others the Mariners have junked with an ace or a closer on the mound.

This team doesn’t have that many wins to spare. It struggles to win more than two in a row at the best of times because guys aren’t getting the pitching and the hitting synched up. We can point the finger at injuries and say this team hasn’t had a full compliment of players all year, but the truth is that Raul Ibanez’s numbers have more than offset the loss of full-timer Michael Morse. Franklin Gutierrez hasn’t stayed healthy since 2009 and the really gut-wrenching losses this year have by-and-large been as a result of the work of healthy-pitchers.

Tonight’s game had nothing to do with injuries. It had to do with a veteran starter not getting it done and the bullpen following suit.

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Comments | More in analysis | Topics: hisashi iwakuma; blake beavan; kendrys morales; brad miller

July 9, 2013 at 8:57 AM

Perception and reality: Justin Smoak and Kendrys Morales

Justin Smoak drills one of his two RBI doubles last night to help the Mariners rout the Boston Red Sox. Smoak is now running a higher OPS than Kendrys Morales. Photo Credit: AP

Justin Smoak drills one of his two RBI doubles last night to help the Mariners rout the Boston Red Sox. Smoak is now running a higher OPS than Kendrys Morales. Photo Credit: AP

Justin Smoak and Kendrys Morales are both first basemen for the Mariners who can double as a DH. For much of this season, we’ve heard a debate raging about whether the Mariners should try to sign Morales long-term, to a contract that would range anywhere from $15 million to $20 million per annum.

When it comes to Smoak, as recently as a week or two ago, there has been discussion about whether he fits into Seattle’s future plans.

As of this morning, here are the on-base-plus-slugging percentages of the two players:

Smoak: .788

Morales: .778

This is probably something worth discussing.

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Comments | More in analysis | Topics: kendrys morales; justin smoak; OPS; RISP

June 30, 2013 at 6:09 PM

Mariners pass halfway point looking worse by the week

The Mariners dropped their second in a row to the Chicago Cubs and finished 3-5 on their eight-game homestand.

The Mariners dropped their second in a row to the Chicago Cubs and finished 3-5 on their eight-game homestand.

That last road trip the Mariners were on was a tough one, given that they played hard, blew some leads and cost themself a winning stretch. This homestand — in which the Mariners officialy crossed the halfway point in their schedule — was entirely different.

This time, they just flat-out stunk. They took two of three from the Oakland Athletics, then got their bats handed to them by a pair of National League squads, one of them the lowly Chicago Cubs.

Those Cubs took their second in a row today, 7-6 at Safeco Field, and frankly, the Mariners are fortunate they did not get swept. The only thing keeping Seattle in any game this series was the Chicago bullpen, which helped fritter away a 7-1 lead today and nearly blew another game.

The Mariners got late home runs by Jason Bay, Raul Ibanez and Kyle Seager. But it wasn’t enough.

And now, the Mariners sit 12 games under .500. Their season has officially lost just about any on-field relevance, other than looking at the latest batch of “kids” and hoping some of those stick this time. There’s also the continued strong play of some veterans worth watching, with Ibanez hitting his 19th home run to equal his total from all of last season. Bay also hit his 10th.

If I’d told you in March that Ibanez and Bay would have 29 homers just past the halfway point in the schedule, you’d think the Mariners would be a lot closer to .500 than a dozen games out. But that’s just how disappointing the season has gone. The Mariners have hit big on some longshot additions. It’s just the “sure things” that haven’t worked out.

Sort of like this Cubs series. They’ve got this rallying-late stuff down to a science. It’s the whole getting-into-the-game part they’ve had a heap of trouble with.

“I think that this team, for whatever reason, we do the hard part well,’’ Ibanez said. “Which is, we score late in the game. And that’s the hard part. The hard part is hitting the setups, closers and late-inning guys.

“And I think we do that part well. We’re good at coming back. I think if we can, offensively, hit collectively the first six innings the way we do in the last three, I think we’ll be a really good team.’’

Of course, a “really good team” playing for zilch in the standings because the Mariners have once again played themselves into irrelevance before the calendar turns to July.

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Comments | More in analysis | Topics: jeremy bonderman; raul ibanez; brad miller; blake beavan

June 24, 2013 at 10:33 AM

Mariners playing like .500 team…just one Cleveland series short

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Funny, because if you thought the Mariners were a .500 team at the start of the year, nothing we’ve seen the past month changes any of that. Since the end of that eight-game losing streak in May, the Mariners have  gone 14-14.

That’s .500 ball.

In fact, the Mariners were a game under .500 when that eight-game losing streak began.

So, really, other than that eight-game stretch, this has been a .500 team. I guess this means we can blame that one four-game series in Cleveland for scuttling the entire season, right? Sweep that series instead of getting swept and this is pretty much a .500 team, right? Right?

Wrong.

I was just joking with that last bit. That isn’t how it works. Even .500 teams have got to be able to go on a winning streak at some point to offset the inevitable losing streaks. And this Mariners squad hasn’t done that yet. In fact, this club has yet to win four games in a row.

And that’s why they’ve done this little dance between eight-and-10 games under .500 going on one month now. That’s why, when they fell 11 under .500 by blowing that Felix Hernandez game in Anaheim, they pretty much sealed their fate.

Now, they’ve won two in a row and are back to nine under. But they’ll eventually lose again and the dance will continue.

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Comments | More in analysis | Topics: felix hernandez; raul ibanez; jeremy bonderman; tom wilhelmsen

June 20, 2013 at 12:24 PM

Getting middle of the order healthy of prime urgency for Mariners

Kendrys Morales had this game-winning single on Tuesday night, but it's one of just four hits he's managed in nearly two weeks since his back seized up on him in a game against the Yankees. Photo Credit: AP

Kendrys Morales had this game-winning single on Tuesday night, but it’s one of just four hits he’s managed in nearly two weeks since his back seized up on him in a game against the Yankees. Photo Credit: AP

The Mariners have been playing for a while now with two middle of the order bats at substantially less than 100 percent.

Kendrys Morales left a June 8 game with the Yankees with back stiffness and the Mariners have been reluctant to play him in the field since.

Michael Morse injured his quad muscle on May 28, didn’t play him again until June 6 and the Mariners have only recently started playing him at first base again.

Here are their numbers since:

Morales: .121 batting average, .121 on-base percentage, 0 home runs, .242 OPS in 8 games

Morse: .242 batting average, .278 on-base percentage, 0 home runs, .672 OPS in 10 games

Getting zero homers and sub-.400 slugging from the team’s two imported middle-of-the-order bats over the past two weeks is a good place to start if you want to see why the Mariners now resemble their teams of 2010 and 2011 on offense. Throw in the lack of a full-time leadoff hitter and that pretty much covers it.

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Comments | More in analysis | Topics: michael morse; kendrys morales; justin smoak; home runs

June 19, 2013 at 10:55 PM

Wedge: ‘You’ve got to score if you’re going to win’

Mariners manager Eric Wedge didn’t come down all that hard on his team, despite the two hts and zero runs tonight. The Mariners did hit several balls hard, as Wedge noted, but defenders were right there to scoop them up or run them down.

None was more spectacular than the play made by Mike Trout in left field on that blast to the wall by Mike Zunino in the seventh. With two on and two out, Zunino cranked one that initially had the crowd groaning as if it was a home run.

But Zunino later admitted he didn’t get all of it. Instead, Trout had just enough room to sprint back and haul the ball in right over his head.

“Nobody else in the game catches that ball,’’ Wedge said. “I thought it was going to be out of here, but it must have had a little bit of topspin.

“But a ball that’s hit that hard and not real high, right over your head, to get back there like he did and catch it? Nobody else in the game can do that.’’

Still, the Mariners didn’t do much at any other point in the game. They had two on in the second inning after a bizarre infield chopper went for a Kendrys Morales single. Bt Michael Saunders popped out foul.

Kyle Seager had the only hard hit of the night by Seattle, a single in the seventh.

Here’s a telling stat. The last 12 games, Mariners starters have posted an ERA of 1.77. But the team itself is just 6-6 in those games. Why? They are scoring just 2.42 runs per game over that span.

“You’ve got to score if you’re going to have a chance to win,” Wedge said.

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Comments | More in analysis | Topics: mike zunino; mike trout; joe saunders; eric wedge

June 15, 2013 at 2:58 PM

Kyle Seager on the takeout slide that won last night’s game

Kyle Seager takes the field prior to this afternoon's game against the Oakland Athletics. Seager helped win last night's game with a hard takeout slide at second base in the eighth inning.

Kyle Seager takes the field prior to this afternoon’s game against the Oakland Athletics. Seager helped win last night’s game with a hard takeout slide at second base in the eighth inning.

We’ve talked plenty about the contributions last night by Mike Zunino — who is not in the lineup tonight as the Mariners give new catcher Henry Blanco a chance at action right away — but the play that may have ultimately decided the contest came from Kyle Seager. If Seager doesn’t take out the legs of Jed Lowrie at second base on an eighth-inning slide, then the Oakland Athletics would have completed a double-play by throwing out slow-running Michael Morse at first base.

The inning would have been over and Raul Ibanez would not have gotten the chance to come up and drive in a key third run with a single. That run turned out to be the difference in the game. So, without Seager’s play, you can make the argument the Mariners likely would not have won.

Seager plays the game hard. He plays the game right. I caught up with him in the clubhouse a short while ago and asked him what goes into a slide like that. Because clearly, there is an art to it. You can’t just go gunning for the opposing infielder’s legs all the time, or else that reputation is going to catch up to you and get you hurt by another team somewhere down the line.

“You’re never trying to blatantly hurt somebody,” Seager said. “The whole point is to go in there hard, in moments where you’re actually close enough to make a difference. If it’s a sharp ground ball right at the infielder, the obviously you’re better off just getting down because the ball (on the throw) is going to be coming right at you anyway.”

But on last night’s play, there were runners at first and second with one out and Seager wasn’t being held on by first baseman Nate Freiman. When Seager saw the pitch come in low and Morse begin to swing, he anticipated a ground ball and got a good jump towards second.

“Then, when I saw it was a chopper, I knew it was going to take time to get the ball to second base,” Seager said. “So, I knew I was going to get there around the same time as the ball. That’s when you go in hard.”

Seager did just that and Lowrie tried to hold up behind the bag rather than continue across it. That didn’t really work out for him and he went tumbling. Morse kept trying to run as quickly as he could and made it across first base safely.

Screen Shot 2013-06-15 at 3.06.40 PM

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Comments | More in analysis | Topics: kyle seager; slide; jed lowrie; michael morse

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