"Another Blog on the Fire" Michael Dashiell
Contact Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael Dashiell (that's me) is editor of the Sequim Gazette. He has a Bachelor's Degree from Western Washington University, has worked at the Sequim Gazette for about 10 years and enjoys writing — occasionally. He and his wife Patsene live in Sequim; their two daughters are in college. He will write about anything, but particularly enjoys sports, arts, breaking news and news-of-the-weird. He also enjoys writing about himself in the third person.
Give the Mariners a break: watch another team
Published on Wed, Jul 11, 2012 by Mike Dashiell, editor
"What happened last night was unacceptable. It's simple as that. The level of play at this level that I expect has to be better than that."
Ah, the sage words of the wizened skipper, Mariners manager Eric Wedge.
Sounds like it could have been after any M's game this year, doesn't it? The M's this week stumbled into the All-Star break at 36-51, worst in the American League.
Once again, the Seattle Nine are playing much more like the Seattle Zero.
When Wedge talks about "unacceptable" play, he's really talking about the hitting department. How are these numbers for proof: Second-to-last in batting average (.230). Dead last in on-base percentage at .291. Second-to-last in slugging (.358). Third-to-last in total bases per game and hits per game.
This is in all of baseball. Not just the American League.
The pitching? Not as bad. The M's are 10th in the majors in opponent batting average (.245) and are in the middle of the pack with a 3.96 ERA.
MLB has a goofy rule that at least one player per team must be selected for the All-Star Game. Since none of Seattle's position players were anywhere close to being selected for a spot, surely the league would take someone from the M's pitching staff (they did). And surely they would pick just one, considering our relatively so-so numbers (they did; Felix Hernandez). And surely columnists would be pointing at specific Mariners as being epic disappointments (they did, with Ichiro, Chone Figgins and Hector Noesi getting the majority of rotten vegetables).
Frankly, it's simply ugly baseball, and it's a poor product Seattle's been trudging out for the past eight seasons. This is not a rebuilding project; it's a funeral, a bad joke and a tragedy wrapped up in one. It's like an Eddie Murphy movie: painful to watch, unintentionally funny and with no end in sight.
The Mariners are still "mathematically" eligible for the playoffs, but does anyone on planet Earth think the M's are anything but eliminated? And didn't it feel that way in maybe the third week of the season?
There are signs of life, to be sure. Michael Saunders, Kyle Seager, John Jaso and Casper Wells have shown moments of slightly above-average hitting. King Felix remains a draw and Jason Vargas has shown he's a keeper. Kevin Millwood's been a pleasant surprise, the bullpen is solid once again and Brendan Ryan's play at shortstop is impressive.
Everything else? Disappointing.
There's talk of moving in the fences to make our offense a little more respectable. Proponents say this will give our hitters more confidence. Opponents say it won't matter much on that cold Seattle air, and other teams will simply out-homer the M's anyway.
It's not a bad idea. Some might say there's little difference in losing 2-0 or 8-6. There is. It's called the ability to stay conscious while watching your team.
Bring in the fences. And the ticket prices.
I can't believe I'm going to write this, but weren't the Kingdome days were the glory days? Sure, it was a glorified indoor parking lot. But for $2.50, you could roam the spaciously unoccupied upper decks in left, center and right and wait for Griffey or Buhner or Edgar to launch one into your lap. You could get autographs of your most obscure Mariner (I've got five Pete O'Briens, thank you very much) before, after and sometimes during games.
Now we pay $40.43 (average ticket price, per statgeek.com) at Safeco to watch the M's hit lazy fly balls and weak grounders for three hours.
Watchable teams, players
My solution? Take a break from watching the Mariners. Seriously. There are plenty of great story lines going right now in baseball:
• Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals battling for first place
• Andrew McCutcheon and a patchwork pitching staff keeping the Pirates in contention
• The mess that is the AL East, with the Yankees surviving all those pitcher injuries to post the best record in baseball and the rest at .500 or better slugging it out for a wildcard spot
• Mike Trout, a rookie and odds-on MVP for the American League tearing it up in Anaheim
• The Giants staying in contention despite the fact Tim Lincecum can't figure out how to pitch anymore
• The Phillies, trying to unbury themselves from an awful start by bringing back from the disabled list its two top hitters
• The Mets' R.A. Dickey emerging as perhaps the best pitcher in baseball as a knuckleballer
• The Orioles becoming relevant again
A few things to tide you over until the Mariners figure out how to hit again.
Making aces across the league
A few other rants about the Mariners ...
I'm tired of reading post-game reports that make Mariner opposing pitchers sound like they're aces. Some samples (taken from Associated Press reports):
• "It's just coincidence the finest performance of Chris Tillman's young career with Baltimore came against his former organization. Whether it came against Seattle or anyone else, Tillman's effort Wednesday was satisfying and impressive." — July 4, 4-2 loss to Baltimore
• "(Robert) Andino's home run gave a boost to the Orioles. Baltimore starter Wei-Yin Chen was perfect for 6 1/3 innings and left the game with a 4-1 lead." — July 3, a 5-4 loss to Baltimore
• "Aaron Cook was in the minor leagues just a few weeks ago, unsure if he would get another chance at showing the Boston Red Sox he could be an option in their starting rotation. Cook's start Friday night was a strong argument to keep him on the pitching staff. Cook threw a two-hitter in the finest performance of his career." — June 29, a 5-0 loss to Boston
• "Felix Hernandez walked off the mound in the ninth inning knowing the gem he just tossed was one of the best outings of his career. Yet he still stood on the top step of the Seattle Mariners' dugout in the ninth inning begging for a run to make sure this brilliant effort came in a win. 'Just score one run. One run is all I need,' Hernandez thought as the bottom of the ninth started." — June 28, a 1-0 win against Boston
• "Oakland manager Bob Melvin had a concise assessment of starter Jarrod Parker. 'He's good,' Melvin said. Parker earned that praise with seven dominant innings and a career-high nine strikeouts." — June 27, a 2-1 loss to Oakland
• "Tommy Milone wasn't surprised or overly impressed by the fact that he is the first Oakland Athletics rookie to win eight games before the All-Star break … The Mariners, who had a pair of singles in the fourth, still couldn't score … It was the ninth time this season the Mariners have been shut out." — June 25, a 1-0 loss to Oakland
• "(Edinson) Volquez was in command as he allowed just four singles in 6 2/3 innings and was not hurt by the control issues that have hampered him this season. Volquez, who leads the majors in walks with 55, walked three but was rarely stressed by the Mariners." — June 24, a 2-0 loss to San Diego
• " 'Unless they're just not paying attention or are just dumb, they should be able to find a way to get back to it and be more consistent,' Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. 'But you have to be much better than this offensively.' " — July 6, a 4-1 loss to Oakland in 13 innings
• "Seattle has lost nine of 14 and goes into the break with a losing record for a third straight season as the hitters once again struggled to generate any offense." — July 8, a 2-1 loss to Oakland in 13 innings
See a common thread here? In the span of 15 days, the Mariners went 5-9 — not particularly horrible, until you consider three of those wins came by a single run, and that they scored two runs or less nine times and managed nary a run three times.
In that 4-2 loss to Baltimore on July 4, they managed a three-hit barrage. The game before that, five hits. Two games before that, four.
And if that weren't bad enough, they're not even interesting when they're bad! I mean, come on! Flub a grounder or six. Throw the ball into the stands. Uncork more wild pitches than strikes. Drop consecutive pop-ups. Run to third instead of first out of the box. Hit the Bull! (Bull Durham reference, FYI)
Instead, it's the ultimate brand of boring baseball: Okay pitching, decent defense and lackluster hitting. Where are the days of Charley Finley? Can't we get an elephant or vertically-challenged batter or Disco Night or something? Anything?
Don't get me wrong: I've bled Mariner blue all of my adult life. Since moving to Washington state in 1985 (I was 9), I've rooted on the Griffeys and Edgars and Randys and Ichiros …
… and the Mark Langstons and the Danny Tartabulls, the Ken Phelpses and the Scott Bradleys, the Jeff Schaefers and the Gene Harrises, the Bob Wolcotts and the Mike Trujillos, the (gasp!) Bobby Ayalas and the Jeff Nelsons, the Rey Quinoneses and the Mickey Brantleys …
… I rooted them on because they were fun to watch, even when they were awful. I watched them because they entertained. They were fun, even going down 14-6. When Bobby Ayala was KILLING us with his non-existent "out" pitch or Jay Buhner was more miss than hit, it was fun. Even in a parking garage that was the Kingdome, I loved this team.
When 1995 hit, it was like a breath of fresh air. Playoffs! Beating the Yankees! Griffey's the best payer in the game.
Then, Safeco gets built! Then 2001's unimaginable, record-setting season!
Since then, it's been a slow assent into baseball Hades.
I'm not sure where we got off track. It wasn't seeing the superstars leave; we actually improved when Griffey and A-Rod and Randy left.
But in the past decade or so, something's died. I mean it - there's a death pall hanging over Safeco.
Arguments falling flat
Lest we think the Mariners are becoming the West Coast version of the Cubs — lovable losers — remember that we're generally fair-weather fans here, myself included. It took a 1995 miracle to keep the team from going out on a rail.
Here are some of the comment I've heard from friends and fellow Mariner followers in recent years, and why they don't wash anymore:
"Yes, but we're a young team."
Young, and not very good. Weighed down by two monstrous contracts to two players in particular who are not worth their paychecks at this point of their careers (Ichiro at $18 million, Chone Figgins at $9.5M.).
"We've got great pitching."
Which, combined with our whiffle ball-like offense, doesn't win games. Which is sharp one night and mediocre the next (true of any young staff). Which often serves as trade bait for hitters who refuse to consider Seattle as free agents.
"Safeco's a beautiful place to play."
It had better be, for $40.43 (average ticket price, per statgeek.com). And frankly, it's not a beautiful place to watch anything.
Case in point: It's June 20, 2010 and it's a Father's Day a game against the Reds. Ryan Rowland-Smith is on the mound for Seattle, with 32,712 in the stands. Seattle wins 1-0 on a sac fly by Franklin Gutierrez.
Now, most one-run games are exciting all the way through. There generally are tense moments between batter and pitch, pitcher and manager. Most times you find the manager making key strategic movements now and again to move a runner along or to match up his top situational reliever against a pinch hitter.
This game? Not so much. Worst. 1-0. Game. Ever. With a combined six hits, the Reds and Mariners (and partner in crime, Safeco Field) managed to put to sleep 21,732 of their announced crowd by the fifth inning. Rowland-Smith had to have smelling salts to wake him for the sixth inning. The Moose actually signed up for therapy by the seventh inning yawn.
Since then, I think I've listened or watched or (gulp) attended each mariner game, hoping I'd see or hear something that would dispel this feeling of dread. Nothing.
"Yeah, but what about that no-hitter the other day?"
Yeah. The combined six-pitcher effort that put one of our most consistent hurlers (Kevin Millwood) on the disabled list, that shocked the sports world only in that people realized Seattle still has a team, and a feat that was forgotten as quickly as it happened (two hours, 48 minutes)? That even Mariner pitchers didn't realize they'd done, surely expecting the game to go extra innings until they realized the M's offense actually pushed exactly one run across the plate?
"The hitting will come around."
Yes. It will. But not in Seattle. Whether it's the inability to sign real hitters, or the lack of dedication to young hitters to a psychological block. Our hitting isn't getting better. We have six (six!) starters hitting under .250. Our top hitter by average is Ichiro at .261.
A quick look at Tuesday's all-star game rosters include former Mariners Bryan LaHair, Adam Jones, Adrian Beltre, David Ortiz (played in our minor league system) and Asdrubal Cabrera (same). Ouch.
"Wait till next year."
Yep. That's the plan. I just didn't think I'd be planning for it at the all-star break. Again.
Reach Michael Dashiell at email@example.com.