Mariners Analysis

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

M's missing golden opportunity

Quick thoughts over the past few games:

1) It is obvious this team has been unable to play to its talent level. The AL West is arguably the worst division in baseball. If the Tigers were in the West, this season would have been declared over weeks ago. So even with the gift of equally lousy division teams, they refuse to take advantage. The schedule was set up perfectly for them... sub .500 teams, some momentum... and it led to nothing. This team has no passion, no fire, no ability to rise to the occasion. These past 6 games have been just terrible to watch knowing what could have been.
2) The pressure is on Mike Hargrove. When national publications like USA Today start listing baserunning gaffes as reason for losing, you are in trouble. These aren't little mistakes... the kind only rabid fans like to second guess when their team is losing... these are unexplainable, what-were-you-thinking kind of mistakes.
3) I still maintain Bavasi does not share the bulk of the blame. He deserves to see the team he put together play at something resembling a predictable level. I don't think anyone foresaw Beltre being as crap-tastic as he has become. Or Sexson. You can't have the middle of the lineup perform at the level they have and win many ball games.
4) At least Hargrove did SOMETHING with the lineup today. While I don't agree with it, I don't mind seeing changes. When guys don't perform, move them around/bench them until they do.
5) Felix has been given gift leads and still finds a way to get into trouble. This is troubling beyond just missing the strike zone with his fastball.
6) I don't think Hargrove is close to being fired just yet. Until we hear the local beat writers openly pondering his future, I think he is safe. Usually management likes to float the idea first before springing a firing on the public. Sure a ten game losing streak might change that, but until I see Finnigan et al talking about his future, I don't see him getting fired just yet. His future is in doubt, but I don't think we know just how short the leash actually is.

Well, the M's won today... too bad they chose an afternoon game when no one could watch it to actually score some runs.

Thursday, May 25, 2006


While we ponder the future of the M's, here's a quick projected total for Beltre this season-


More goodness-


Wow! His OPS would be under .600 if he continues on his current pace.

"The Meeting"

While the M's continue to play closer to their ability, the importance of "the meeting" appears to grow. The press & media has been pointing a finger directly at the team meeting while talking about the M's win streak.

When teams are playing poorly, there is absolutely nothing wrong with talking it out. To continue on without collectively acknowledging there is a problem is not healthy, as having a divisive clubhouse rarely allows the team to reach it's full potential. And with the current M's, the ceiling is not terribly high. Frankly, they need to come pretty close to maximizing their talent if they want to play at a .500 level this season.

But those of us that follow the team know full well meetings have been held before, and the team has continued to lose. Let's look at the past two weeks timeline-
1) M's win two series in a row before playing Oakland on the road
2) M's are swept in Oakland (0-3, historically almost expected)
3) "The Meeting"
4) M's come home and sweep San Diego
5) M's win first 2 of 3 from struggling Orioles

Looking at the timeline, we see the M's are:
-winning at home
-having troubles in Oakland

Looking at the numbers, we also know Ichiro is hitting singles and Sexson is starting to suck less than he did before. We also know Lopez is continuing to impress. To single out the meeting as being the difference between sweeping the Padres and being swept in Oakland is well.... borderline irresponsible.

"The Meeting?"

It's one very small factor among dozens of others.

But I guess it sells papers...

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

M's loss no big deal

Last nights game looked like a lock. Halama on the mound, and an O's team spiraling downward fast.

So of course we get blown out.

Welcome to sports!

This is the reason you go to the ballpark. You never know what will happen, and that's a good thing.

The M's got in a hole, clawed back and almost tied the game in the 8th.

Believe me, the M's players have already forgotten this game and will continue to climb back to .500

No reason to panic over one game!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Hargrove's bench

While M's fans wonder if the team will ever get back to winning baseball, it is interesting to see the success the Detroit Tigers are having. They have suddenly gone from 90 losses to the best record in baseball, which is proof teams can turn it around when all the pieces are in place.

I'm the first to admit I don't follow the Tigers closely. I see they lead the league in team ERA, and we all know the Tigers have decent hitting. (After all, we gave them Carlos Guillen.) But an offseason that featured signings like Kenny Rogers doesn't exactly explain the sudden change.

Much of the credit has gone to Jim Leyland. In general, I'm not a big fan of giving too much credit or too much blame to a manager, but the explanation for his bench use I found interesting.

Essentially the story goes like this- Leyland talks to his players. He walks around the clubhouse chatting it up with the players. He lets the bench players know when they are playing, and keeps them as upbeat as possible. He lets them all know they are one injury away from getting in the game, and that he uses the bench to keep the everyday players healthy and productive.

This is of course pretty close to the exact opposite of the approach Mike Hargrove takes. He likes a set lineup. He thinks in some cases an injured starter at 80% is better than a bench player at 100. He is not a rah-rah kind of guy who goes around the clubhouse and gets players excited about the game.

Now this post is not meant to bash on Hargrove. Bill Bavasi knew all these things when he hired him, and Hargrove has won in Cleveland before, so clearly his approach can work.

But we do know this team has looked awfully dispirited at times during a loss. You had players like Lawton who clearly were not happy about the playing time they were getting, and most of the extra players are pitchers anyway. It's hardly shocking the team doesn't have any great clubhouse presence when it's biggest stars (Sexson, Beltre...) are struggling mightily. It had to be a pretty down bench, and explains some of the missing energy this club has shown during the first part of the year.

The good news is the team has addressed this to a point. The big meeting last week has resulted in a few more smiles around the clubhouse, and Lawton is gone. Players like Morse are just happy to be in the big leagues, so expect to see a smile on his face every day he wakes up in a big league uniform.

Leyland is credited with other things besides the bench, but fans who watch the team have commented on the noticeable and positive affect it has had on the team.

I have always been a big fan of teams with depth. If I was the manager, Ichiro would have already had at least two nights off, and I would be giving bench players every reason to believe they really are an important part of the club.

Just something to think about while we enjoy the next few weeks... watching the M's beat up on some other teams with poor benches.

Monday, May 22, 2006

M's will gain ground in June

After having to play so many tough opponents early in the season, the Mariners finally get to play some sub .500 teams. It is not unreasonable to see the M's hover around .500 at various points before the all star break.

We saw with San Diego what teams like the Mariners do... namely, they look terrible in Oakland, look pretty good the next series, and then... who knows!

Teams that are struggling to play .500 ball drive you crazy. They are just as likely to get swept as sweep somebody, and they are impossible to predict. Compared to the lousy teams of the past few years, the current collection of misfits and future stars is actually fairly entertaining. Remember back in the day when a young Griffey and RJ were playing for the M's? (I'm talking early 90's.) Well, the M's struggled back then too.


So what about the "major" moves planned this weekend?

Lawton getting released is more about Hargrove than anything else. When Willie got banged up, and Adrian's hamstring started acting up, Hargrove suddenly realized him having such a lousy bench was a problem. So, he brought up Morse, who actually solves nothing.

Morse is lousy in the outfield, lousy in the infield. He wasn't playing well in Tacoma, but welcome to the big leagues Mike!! Supporters of Hargrove will have a hard time explaining this one. At least Morse won't get much playing time.

The other reason for Lawton being released is simply Hargrove's stupid decision to not rest starters. Since he won't rest Ichiro or Ibanez, Lawton would never see any playing time this season with Reed/Willie platooning in center.

I'm not turning this post into a bash on Hargrove... the moves say volumes about his managerial style, and it's up to you whether you agree with them.

He relies too much on a set lineup, and relies too much on veterans. (Fact or fiction?!!)

But then again, we knew this when we hired him. Who wants to beat on a dead horse?

As for Mateo, he should have been forced to pitch more in a rehab assignment before I would trust him in a game. Did anyone else wince when they saw him warming up last night when Felix was struggling to hold a lead?

I did.

So no major moves, just like I figured. Expect more crazy games this week, as the M's try to figure out if they want to compete this summer.

Friday, May 19, 2006

So it must be the way you lose??

Closed door meetings. Rumors of moves bantered about.

The M's get swept in Oakland and suddenly there is a sense of urgency? I guess there really must be something to Hargrove's claim you have to wait 40 games into the season before you can evaluate the team.

Certainly if you look at the standings, the M's are no better then what we've seen the past few years. (Second worst record in the AL behind only KC. Terrible offensive stats in just about every category.)

And yesterday was the same old offense we've seen plenty of... even with Ichiro getting on base, the team can't do anything with it.

But a sweep is hardly surprising. The A's have historically owned the M's down in Oakland, and the A's are a good team. Plenty of baseball people picked the A's to win the AL West, and a few picked them to represent the AL in the World Series.

If you believe this team is really poorly put together, you would have arrived at that conclusion weeks ago. Nothing you saw in the past 3 games should suddenly change your mind about this team.

The A's are simply better than the M's.

Did we learn something earth shattering this week that would lead to Hargrove getting fired? Did we see something on the field this week that suddenly forces major moves on the team that wouldn't have happened if we won a game or two?

We'll see, but I am highly skeptical anything we would classify as a major move is planned, and also expect this team to win a few games this weekend.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Fun game tonight

Any long time Mariner fan knows how hard it has been historically to win in Oakland. We used to consider losing two of three a good trip, and basically just hoped we didn't get swept every time the M's flew down.

Tonight we have Moyer and Zito, two great left handers who are a joy to watch. When Zito is on, his curve is a thing of beauty, and it will be interesting to see if he finishes the year in Oakland. Will be be pitching his way out of an A's uniform this season, and where would he go? It's hard to see Beane losing him for nothing, and he likes to sell when the value is high.

Moyer is simply fascinating to watch. He is a model for every aspiring pitcher who doesn't have a 95 mph fastball. Watching him throw consistenly in the 70's and 80's is absolute proof on how to be successful as a pitcher... mix your speeds. Watching a huge slugger corkscrew himself into the ground chasing an 82 mph changeup is better than almost anything else on TV... with Moyer I really feel like you miss something on radio. You have to see him pitch to really appreciate it.

So the M's come into this series playing at least decent baseball. The Athletics came in struggling. Zito has been on fire lately, and owns the M's (10-2). Moyer lost last Thursday 1-0 on a balk!

Remember, these .500 teams do crazy things. Let's see if they can take the sting away from last nights game.

Felix struggles again

Last night we saw Felix have a tough night against an A's team that has struggled to hit for much of the season. After watching him in person last week, and seeing him last night, there are a few things that stand out.

First of all, he clearly does not have the overpowering fastball he had last summer. He can crank it up to 97 when he really needs to, but most of his fastballs are in the 95 mph range. And as Thornton or Putz will tell you, 95 is not going to be a big deal to many major league hitters.

Second, he also has problems consistently locating that pitch. He often throws a fastball that has a hard, almost slider like drop to it that is not finding the strike zone. He then mixes it up with a straight fastball that looks like a big meatball catching the majority of the plate. Without being able to spot his fastball with any consistency, he can't get anyone out with that pitch.

Finally, he is obviously throwing a lot of fastballs. Earlier in the year he was throwing more off speed stuff, and everyone yelled for more fastballs. Now he seems to be taking it to the other extreme... too many fastballs and the opponent doesn't fear the breaking stuff, knowing the fastball is coming again.

So we have fastballs that aren't that fast, aren't being spotted properly and are being thrown too often.

The game plan is out on Felix. Sit and wait for fastballs. Let's see what Hargrove and his staff does to fix it.

Monday, May 15, 2006

M's inconsistency to be expected

You watch the team lose Thursday 1-0 against Tampa on a balk. You watch the team lose Friday night, and swear this team is going no where... you can't possibly sit through another game.

Then they win two in a row, and you suddenly realize they've won back-to-back series, and just maybe this team is actually getting better.

Sound familiar?

It's exactly what .500 teams do. They look terrible one minute, and then tease you with solid play. They feature moments where they put it all together, and then back it up with games you swear were pulled right from the movie Major League.

This team IS getting better. It's hard to tell at times, because they have to sprinkle in 81 losses in the schedule, but there is reason to be optimistic.

Lopez is showing glimpses of being a young Boone. Betancourt will make us forget about giving away Carlos Guillen. Sexson will get his swing back. Beltre is playing better.

Don't give up on this team. The AL West is weak, and the M's have solid enough pitching to keep it near .500 all year.

There will be plenty of ups and downs, but this team will end up near 80 wins.

It's taking $90 million to do it, but this team is worth watching.

About half the time.

And that's an improvement.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Snelling unlikely to help team

With Chris Snelling getting back to baseball on the same day the M's lose 1-0 on a balk!! it is easy to annoint the oft-injured young man as a possible solution to our problem.

But banking on Snelling these days is like watching Griffey. Sure he might tease you with a couple of weeks of nice ball, but then the injuries come up.

Let's see if Snelling can get at least 100 at bats before we even think of bringing him up. He needs to prove to us, management and himself his bad luck streak is over.

Besides, he would probably sit on Hargrove's bench anyway, so let's enjoy him in Tacoma for a while...

Beltre doing better

No coincidence, the players overall are doing better, and the M's are winning a few games as a result. Adrian Beltre, after giving new meaning to the phrase "slow start" is actually stringing some hits together of late. While his power is still absent, we'll gladly take the singles and worry about the power later. Ichiro is getting on base again, and Lopez has been giving possible glimpses of a future all star at 2nd base.

Now before we start hearing fans complain about it all coming at the expense of the Devil Rays, it should be pointed out the Tampa club came into this series with one less loss than the M's. Record wise these two clubs are essentially equal... no one is "beating up" on anyone. About the only thing the Rays and M's have in common is trying to reach respectibility at some point in the future.

So the M's are either 5 games under .500 and going no where, or only 3 1/2 games out of first. It's up to the individual fan as to which camp you fall into. (Personally I don't bother looking at games behind until I hit .500 but your mileage may vary.)

Oakland is off to a slow start, per usual. Texas still has pitching problems, and the Angels are as anemic on offense as the M's. The league is really divided this year in offensive extremes. You have clubs like Texas, Cleveland and NY who are scoring runs like crazy. Then you have teams like the Cubs who scored 10 runs in 12 games!! We thought the M's had it bad- the Cubs are simply awful!

So the idea of picking up a player to help the M's offense any time soon is pretty unlikely. You have teams like the Giants, Cubs and Angels who have more talent than we do and badly need offensive help. If you hear rumors of a Piniero or Meche being dangled for a bat, don't expect much. It will take plenty of young talent to dislodge a good bat from the Nationals or Pirates, so the M's are going to have to perform with what they have.

Signs of life. Really.

You can be encouraged by the past week. Don't give up on the M's just yet.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Players share most of the responsibility

As the M's continue to lose, the finger pointing grows stronger. Fans have been complaining about the offense and lack of power for years, and seeing the M's squander yet another excellent pitching performance gets old fast. Nothing kills fan enthusiasm more than a team that can't hit. The M's are losing games and fan interest at a frightening rate.

So naturally Bavasi is getting a good chunk of the blame. But how much blame should a GM get when his players underperform at such a ridiculous rate?

It would be one thing if the M's were losing and Sexson, Beltre and Everett were all hitting at their expected rates. But it is something else when you have players who are simply not producing at a rate NO ONE could have foreseen. While some would say Bavasi overpaid for Beltre, no one was thinking he was a sub .200 hitter with no power (Cirillo). And we all worried about Sexson's shoulder, but that's not the problem. Who thought Sexson would be on a pace to hit 15 home runs?

These current players are so bad, and playing such uninspired baseball, they share by far the largest blame. I don't care who your manager is, Sexson and Beltre should not be hitting like they have.

Let's face it, we all celebrated the day Beltre was signed. And while we worried about Sexson's injury risk, we knew the guy would hit home runs.

We are all surprised to see just how bad they are hitting. If Bavasi had any hair left, he'd be pulling it out watching these players cost him his job.

Washburn is pitching well. The bullpen is deep and has talent to be good for years to come. Meche and Piniero are pitching well enough to help the team, even if that means via trade at the deadline. Bavasi deserves to see how this team would perform if the players simply played like they are being paid.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Guardado change obvious

The easiest decision in baseball was made today when Guardado was removed as closer. It's too bad it took another blown save to make it happen, because the M's can ill afford to lose these games.

The evidence against was overwhelming. Bad shoulder. Bad September. Bad spring training. Bad first part of the season. Bad velocity. Bad location/control.

But Hargrove and Bavasi stuck with him, and it cost the team some wins. No way to argue otherwise.

Now we get to see if Putz or Soriano really have the stuff to close. As we saw with players like Nelson and Rhodes, great stuff in the 7th and 8th doesn't always translate to the 9th. While we think Putz and Soriano should do well closing, we won't know for sure until they prove it.

Felix on the mound... it would be nice to see him pitch well and get this catching crap removed from the discussion.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Patience with Guardado?

It is obvious Eddie Guardado is really struggling right now. Even when he is pitching well, you wonder how he is effective. He has no "out" pitch, and basically relies on mixing his pitches and staying away from the middle of the plate. He is a relievers version of Moyer if there ever was one. Watching hime "fire" an 88 mph fastball in the 9th is rather entertaining!

So while the M's have stablized a bit and won a couple of series, Hargrove faces a dilemma. How long do I stick with Eddie when I have Putz and Soriano waiting in the wings?

But the bigger issue is Hargrove shouldn't have had to make that decision- Guardado should have been traded last year at the deadline. We talked about that decision at length last year, and it still holds true today- Guardado serves no purpose right now.

Not only would the M's likely have an extra victory or two in hand, they'd have $6 million of extra salary to play with, plus whatever talent they picked up in return. Bavasi blew it by playing he safe route and not trading Guardado last summer, and now we get to watch him play with fire every time he takes the mound. This team isn't good enough to afford to waste any games if they want to stick close to .500

Sure, they aren't going to make the playoffs regardless, but Eddie, as nice of a guy as he might be, really shouldn't be on the team right now.

But he is, so I'll still cheer him on. The team is clearly better with Eddie pitching well, so I hope he gets his act together. This team could have one of the best bullpens in baseball if he does.