Why Mariner fans should be happy

Putting words ‘happy’ and ‘Mariner fan’ together is an unlikely a pairing as Obama and republican endorsement. It doesn’t sound right, it is unbelievable, it does not follow, there is no such thing. Mariner fans were happy in 2001 when Seattle won 116 games. Yes children that really did happen, it is not a fairy tale.

But the 2014 Mariners down the stretch did what they had to do. Granted they stumbled on the road where they had success, granted that James Paxton and King Felix had back to back pitching disasters. But the team rebounded winning their last four games, including a sweep of the Angels, the same team they swept at the start of the season. They fell one game short of playing the A’s for a wild card spot.

Bill Russell, Hall of Fame Boston Celtic legend, once made a statement that is true. I will paraphrase because it is an old quote, but one I have never forgot the meaning of. No matter how a team loses at the end of the game, the ‘what if’ game can not be played over the closing minutes. The reason he correctly said is that there are plays in the first quarter, the second quarter, and in the third that could have turned the game. It is wrong to selectively look at the closing minutes. A game is one or lost in its entirety.

So it is for a season. What if Paxton and Felix had won those games does not matter, nor what if Fernando Rodney did not walk four batters in the 10th inning against Oakland in September, giving the A’s that one win that got them the wild card. It does not work because both Seattle and Oakland can play the larger ‘what if’ game over the entire season.

The larger picture is the Mariners, whom nobody expected to win 87 games, were playing a meaningful game on the last day of the season. They won. But so did Oakland. I repeat, the 162nd game of the season meant something and they won. For once the Mariners season was not over in May or June. It was a fun ride and they should be even better next season. More on that in coming blogs.

For now Mariner fans should be happy and that is not an oxymoron.

Mariners wild card shipwrecked in Toronto

It is not officially over, but it is only a matter of a couple of days before the bell tolls on the Mariners post season shot. The Good Ship Mariner crashed in Toronto’s Rogers Centre in two very unlikely games.

Felix Hernandez had his worst outing of the season, a very unlikely Felix performance, going 4.2 innings, 7 hits, 3 walks, and 8 runs. It came the night after James Paxton had the worst outing of his career, pitching just 2.2 innings, 7 hits, 6 walks, 9 runs, 8 of which were earned. In fact the best pitching staff in the game has allowed 42 runs in the last four games. They are no longer the best, for to be the best you must win when it counts and the Mariners pitchers, both starters and relievers, have failed to do that.

After beating Houston at home on September 8th to go 15 games over .500 at 79-64, the Mariners have gone 4-10. They still have five to play, but they show no signs of getting things turned around.

Manger Lloyd McClendon suggested Paxton’s poor, make that miserable, outing was because the Canadian was pitching in his native country for the first time. He felt the stress of pitching in a wild card race along with the stress of pitching before his fellow countrymen affected his concentration.

But what about the veteran King Felix?

Mariner broadcaster Mike Blowers suggested that after the home run to tie the game 2-2, that Felix, knowing how hard it has been for the Mariners to score runs, tried to be too cautious and lost aggressiveness.

There will be many theories, including the familiar “Same old Mariners” or they choked, folding under the pressure, or just pick out the usual cliché. The players will deny it. But what I have noticed is that when spring training rolls around they will be more honest about this collapse.

The good news is that even if they lose their last five games they will finish above .500. Nobody predicted in March they would finish above .500. But I still think the M’s have one or two wins in them before the Good Ship Mariner undergoes an autopsy.

 

Why the Mariners must win 3 of 4 in Toronto

The Mariners have seven games left to win a wild card spot and are 1.5 behind Kansas City and 2 behind Oakland. Still time, but the numbers indicate Seattle in a September slump with no signs of a reversal.

In the month of September Oakland is 7-12, but have an ERA of 3.08. Kansas City is 10-9 with a 3.27. The Mariners who had strong pitching all season, the best in baseball, are 10-10 with an ERA of 3.81.  The M’s high ERA is attributed to the following pitchers, Hisashi Iwakuma 9.35; Yoervis Medina 9.00; Chris Young 8.59; and Fernando Rodney 5.63. Between them they have a 1-8 record. The way the rotation is set up Iwakuma, Paxton, and King Felix are slated to pitch at home against the Angels in the last series of the season.

If the Mariners are to make any headway they must win three of four in Toronto. Paxton, Felix, Walker, and Young will start.

But there is more than Pitching that is troublesome for the Mariners as their hitting is also in a slump. Kansas City is hitting .252; Seattle  .221; and Oakland .220. The culprits this  month for Seattle are Dustin Ackley .116; Chris Denorfia .148; Kendrys Morales .169; Chris Taylor .185; and. . . I could go on, but lets us say that Logan Morrison  is batting .320 Robinson Cano .293; Endy Chavez .292 then it drops to .268 for Brad Miller and .264 for Kyle Seager.

Oakland, though 7-12 in the month, leads Seattle by two games with seven to play. Seattle plays better on the road, but are 3-4 after playing at Los Angeles and Houston.  Kansas City is playing the best of the three wild card contenders and they travel to Cleveland to play four, one a suspended game, and the Indians are only 3.5 behind the Royals for a wild card so they have incentive to win. Oakland hosts Los Angeles and Mariner fans will be rooting for the Angels, which might be a first.

That is why Seattle needs to win 3 of 4 against Toronto. It is a good time to make a strong showing with Oakland in a slump, battling Los Angeles; and with Kansas City playing a Cleveland, a team eager to get in the race.

What Mariners must do to win a wild card spot.

A look at the remaining schedule of the Seattle Mariners, Oakland A’s, and Kansas City Royals could indicate how things will play out. The won-lost records, home and away, given below are before Wednesday nights game.

Oakland is hosting the Phillies the 19th-21st while Seattle is at Houston and Kansas City is hosting the Tigers.  It looks good for Oakland as they are 45-28 at home and the Phillies are 33-40 on the road. It also looks good for Seattle as they have the best road record in baseball at 43-29 and Houston at home is 36-40. Detroit and Kansas City are battling for both a division title and a wild card. It will be a tough series for both. Kansas City at home is 40-36, but the Tigers are 43-34 on the road.

Oakland will then play the Angels in a four game series at home and while the Angels have the division title I don’t think they will let up on the A’s. The Angels have a winning record on the road. Kansas City will be at Cleveland to finish a suspended game preceding the first game of the series in what essentially is a four game series. Meanwhile Seattle will be in Toronto for a four game set. Seattle fans should send brooms to the Angels and Indians hoping for a couple of sweeps. These four game series should be the key games that decide who wins the wild card slot.

The season wraps up with Oakland playing three at Texas and Seattle hosting the Angels. The A’s have a definite advantage here as the Mariners do not play well at home and the Angels could be going to the World Series if they get past the Orioles. It would be best for the M’s if they have things wrapped up before this series, but that is unlikely. Kansas City finishes at Chicago and the White Sox are having a bad season.

Seattle has lost six of eight and with Oakland playing the majority of their games at home and Kansas City playing an easier schedule, if the Mariners do not rev up their engine and kick into a higher gear they will be docking the Good Ship Mariner before the post season.

Will Iwakuma’s pitching slump sink Mariners

In his last five starts Hisashi Iwakuma, Seattle’s reliable number 2 starter, has been un-Kuma like. In 21  1/3 innings he has allowed 22 runs. That is a 9.28 ERA. Ironically, in those five games in which his ERA has gone from 2.57 to 3.42, he won two, lost one. That says more about the Mariners offense in getting enough runs to get Iwakuma the wins, showing that wins and losses do not tell the entire story about a pitcher.

His start against the Angels in Los Angeles was odd in that he retired the first eight batters before walking the number nine batter Navarro, then a single, another walk, and Pujols knocks in three. Kuma gets charged with 7 runs in 3.1 innings. This is not Iwakuma, this is Brandon Maurer in April, this is Erasmo Ramirez anytime, this is Aaron Harang in 2013, Joel Saunders in 2013. 

Iwakuma has walked 18 batters the entire season, but 5 have come in the last 13 innings. Iwakuma’s  slump is coming at the worst time as he needed to stop the skid that has seen Seattle lose five of their last six as they fight for a world card spot with 13 games to play. If his slump continues there will be no post season for Seattle. And because Kansas City rallied against the White Sox, the Mariners are two games back of the Royals for the final wild card spot.

Mike Blowers, Mariners TV analyst, says Iwakuma’s pitches are too high in the strike zone, that he must get his pitches lower where he is effective. That could be a mechanical problem or it could be the long season is taking a toll. True he has only started 25 games for Seattle, not making his first start until May 3rd because of an injury, so he should not be tired. But should not does not mean he isn’t.

But if the Royals stay hot and the Mariners offense continues to struggle, Seattle’s playoff hopes could be shipwrecked this weekend. Then Iwakuma’s next start may not matter. Seattle has scored three runs in three games. Pitchers need runs to work with especially slumping ones.

 

Despite losing series to Houston good news for Mariners

It is not good to lose two out of three to Houston at home when you are in a wild card race, but the Mariners did just that. For some reason Houston plays Seattle tough, especially against Hisashi Iwakuma. But all is not lost-pardon the pun.

Detroit an Oakland both lost so Seattle did not lose any ground, but there is even better news beginning Monday.

On Monday Seattle begins their last road trip and it is eleven games. Four against the Angels, three against the dreaded Astros, and four against the Blue Jays. That is good because the Mariners win on the road and lose at home It is a strange anomaly that defies baseball logic, but there it is. At home the Mariners are 37-38, but on the road they are amazing, and it is an amazing record of 42-28. That is a .600 winning percentage on the road. Who does that?

Today the Mariners have a day off before hosting Oakland for the weekend. Seattle needs to win two of three before hitting the road. They play Oakland well and Oakland has struggled of late, but that is scary because you expect them to snap out of it. The Oakland series is like a playoff series as both teams are battling for a wild card spot, so these games are huge.

So if Seattle can take two games before hitting the road they will be 81-67 heading into LA. If they can win 6.6-which is .600 percentage they would be the first to have a fraction of a win, so let’s downgrade to six wins. That is 87 wins heading into the last series of the season at home against those Angels, who are anything but. Being optimistic give the Mariners seven road wins and that is 88 with three to go.

If somehow Seattle and go 11-6 in their last 17 games that would give them 90 wins and most probably a wild card game. Even 10-7 might do it.

The countdown begins Friday at Safeco versus the A’s.

What Jackson and Denorfia have meant to Mariners

The numbers are not spectacular, in fact are average if not mediocre. Since being traded to Seattle Austin Jackson is batting .259 in 35 games with 11 rbis and 7 stolen bases. Chris Denorfia in 23 games is batting .206 with a homer and 4 rbis. The Mariners got the right handed bats they wanted to balance the lineup, but these numbers would not seem to translate to wins, but they do.

Since the trades the Mariners are 23-12 and have outscored the opposition 157-103. Maybe it is that elusive magic called chemistry; maybe it is the leadership of Robinson Cano and a few others; maybe it is a team that believes in itself; maybe it can’t be explained.

The Mariners have gotten lucky with hot bats at the right time. Consider Brad Miller who was flirting with the Mendoza line for most of the season. Chris Taylor came up and was red hot. Then the scouting reports caught up to him and he was pitched to differently, his average trailed off; then Brad Miller got hot. There has always been a few hot bats. Dustin Ackley who in the first half appeared to be playing himself out of Seattle, but since the all-star break has been the player everyone hoped he would be. Seager started cold then has been one of the best hitters in the game since May, made the all-star team, and has proven you can hit at Safeco with a .319 average, 16 homers, 53 rbis.

Since the all-star break the Mariners batting average is .251, 14th in baseball. Forget the early season. What is important is how they are playing now. They have 19 games left and one day off, that comes Thursday. I am betting Seattle will either grab second place from Oakland, or at worst be the second wild card. Detroit and Oakland are struggling, but in the baseball world that can change faster than a Lloyd McClendon trip to the mound.

However, Seattle has the best pitching in baseball, a better defense than Oakland or Detroit, and Jackson and Denorfia, and whatever that means.

 

How pitching will change in the future

In a previous blog I argued that if the National League adopted the DH they might as well eliminate the pitcher and use pitching machines. I doubt that will happen, but then I never thought I could watch a movie on my phone either.

But pitching will change. It as changed in my lifetime and will continue to change. At one time pitchers were expected to complete games, or at the least, go deep into the game. I am not talking about the old days when Charles Radbourne pitched in 75 of his teams 114 games, with 73 complete games, 59 wins, and 679 innings with 441 strikeouts. That was 1884. The year I graduated from high school, the year being none of your business, the complete games were down to a league leading 20 in one league, 18 in the other.

Saves? That statistic did not become official until 1969. Saves changed the game. First a closer usually went two or three innings like Rollie Fingers or Goose Gossage. It was not a big deal. Today a closer rarely pitches more than one inning. Now we have set up pitchers in the seventh and eighth innings.

Starters? A starter goes six, the magic number. Then we have to count pitches to make sure he can pitch the seventh. Many can not. Example: Eric Bedard. He came out of games after six when pitching with Seattle. I think the marine air tired him out.

The future will change because pitcher’s arms are being babied. Young arms are valued in the millions. King Felix of Seattle and Steven Strasburg of Washington are only two of dozens of young arms that must be cared for. Some pitchers get shutdown with innings restrictions.

So in the future a starting pitcher will go three innings, then sit down, and another pitcher will go two innings. That comes out to five innings. Then one pitcher for each of the next four innings, changing lefty for righty depending on batter of course. That is a minimum of six pitchers per game. A pitcher who pitched one inning will be the starter the next day and pitch his three. Rosters will expand of course. Teams will carry 30 players, 17 of which will be pitchers.

Complete games will be extinct and so will pitching duels like King Felix and Jon Lester yesterday in Oakland. Or in the old days like Sandy Koufax and Juan Marichal; Bob Gibson and Ferguson Jenkins; Tom Seaver and Steve Carlton. I  don’t think the future is all it will be cracked up to be.

Charles Radbourne must be laughing in his grave.

What’s wrong with King Felix

Where is King Felix? The person on the mound the last three starts is not the King who was being talked about for the Cy Young Award.

After setting a major league record for most consecutive starts pitching at least seven innings allowing two runs or less he is pitching not like Cy Young, but Eric Bedard. Sorry Eric.

In his last three starts Felix has pitched 17. 2 innings, allowed 22 hits, 6 of which are home runs, and allowed 10 runs, a 5.09 ERA. His ERA has jumped from 1.95 to 2.23. He has given up 6 of his 13 home runs in the last three games, 4 came last night against Washington.

And what is worse is that the Mariners gave Felix an extra day of rest. This season when given the extra day he had been 7-0 with a 1.77 ERA. Heck yeah, give him the extra day. Perhaps the law of averages caught up with Felix, or perhaps that is not the real Felix. Has the real Felix been kidnapped by gamblers and a celebrity look-a-like put in his place? 

Something is wrong.

In the August 14th game against Detroit and David Price, though Felix only gave up 2 runs in five innings he threw 92 pitches. That is what Felix throws in seven or eight innings, not five. Against Boston in 5.2 innings it was worse. He threw 116 pitches. He only threw 103 in his seven innings against Washington, but he gave up 10 hits and four homers.

The answer could be he has hit a dead arm phase that all pitchers seem to go through. It could also be that Felix, who has not pitched well in August or September the last couple of years is tired. In 2012 he was 0-4 in August and September, in 2013 he was 1-6. A 1-10 record down the stretch that last two years does not bode well if Felix continues. So far Felix is 2-2 in August, now comes September.

Felix must regain his Cy Young form otherwise the Good Ship Mariner will sink into Elliot Bay.

 

A modest proposal for those who want DH in both leagues

I confess at the outset I grew up, or rather grew older, during the years preceding the DH which was invented by Satan. Naturally being old school I prefer National League play, though I am cursed to live in an American League city. Another trick of Beelzebub.

I understand the younger folk prefer the DH because they want more offense and most pitchers can’t hit. However, baseball at its best is a thinking mans game, one for the literate, the intelligentsia.  I read an article years ago in the New York Review of Books about famous writers who were baseball fans. The list was extensive, ranging from Mark Twain to John Updike. Of course they grew up during real baseball. But from Twain to Updike, baseball, with it’s myths and legends, so close to myth in fiction-another long article for another time-baseball has been like a siren luring writers of every generation to the diamond.

It won’t do me any good to bring up the argument that the National League has more strategy, more options, more to think about. If you want offense watch Arena football, the only sport to rival soccer as boring. One has no scoring, or rather it has nil scoring, the other has scoring on every play. Both are dull for the dull witted.

The best thing for you future geezers is to wait until the last of us baby boomers has passed from the scene, then change and ruin the game the way you want. Of course those of us who love real baseball will come and haunt you no end. And there are thousands of us.

However, if it can’t be done and the DH is adopted by the National League, then the best thing to do, is to eliminate the pitcher all together. If  all you want is offense, then set up a 21st century pitching machine that can throw all types of pitching. It can even toss a rosin bag and walk around the mound when the electronic umpire’s calls do not go the robotic pitcher’s way. If the DH is in both leagues what is the need of a pitcher anyway? He has become pointless.

You young folk are just weird.

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