Is it too early to say “Same old Mariners”

A large, range-free egg was laid by the Mariners in their first home stand, losing three straight to Oakland. Goose eggs were seen on the scoreboard for three nights as Seattle scored four runs in three games, going 15 for 97 (.155) with 25 strikeouts. And this after taking two of three from the mighty Texas Rangers in Arlington, hitting .282 and scoring 21 runs in three games.

What irony. Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto wanted to build a team that fit Safeco Field. In their first home stand the Mariners looked lost at sea without a compass. Manager Scott Servais wanted an aggressive club, one that would steal bases. They are 0-3 in steals. They have made five errors, two each by Kyle Seager and Ketel Marte, not all of which came in Seattle.

So is it too early to say “same old Mariners?”  Yes, but the way they played this weekend at The Safe was reminiscent of how they have played at home last year, so forgive those fans who will answer in the affirmative.

And the bullpen, amazing in Texas, was not disastrous against Oakland, but Steve Cishek gave up the winning homer in the 9th Friday in a 3-2 loss and Sunday Nick Vincent gave up the winning homer in the 10th in a 2-1 loss.

In both 2012 and 2013 the M’s split their first six games. In 2014 they swept the Angels of Disneyland to start the season, then went to Oakland and lost two of three to Oakland. And yes the A’s have been a pain in the Mariners aft, but last season the Mariners took two of three from the Angels at home, then went to Oakland to win two of three and were 3-3.

So you see, these are not the same old Mariners, for they did not begin the season at 2-4 in the previous four seasons. This is worse. I have not looked at 2011. Looking to far into the Mariner past causes seasickness.

Texas now comes into town losing two star players in catcher Robinson Chirinos with a fractured right forearm and Shin Soo-Choo to a calf injury. The Mariners must rise up, take advantage of a hurt team and get back on course. It is too early to say “same old Mariners.” But if it makes you feel better go ahead. 

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The dumbest thing I heard about the DH is . . .

I was listening to a sports radio talk show a week or two ago and I will not mention the radio personality out of disrespect, but he made me laugh and not because he was funny. He said if the National League approved the DH it would create jobs and therefore be a good thing. The funny thing is that I heard the same argument when the DH was first coming into existence.

Huh? Can anyone count?

Neither of the two other talking heads on the talk show challenged his math, so let me explain for those who don’t know. Each American League team, the league with the DH, has a 25-man roster. The National League, without the DH, has 25-man rosters. With or without the DH each team in each league have 25-man rosters. There are no jobs created. If anything, you lose a  pitcher and add a hitter, but that is not a given.

The argument about the National League adopting the DH surfaces every year about this time because football is over, college basketball has yet to get to March Madness, and the NBA is followed by Star People in another galaxy. And since baseball talk is warming up on radio shows, the DH comes up as topics are hard to find.

Another argument that has no merit about the DH is that it does not change strategy. I have heard this argument and I fail to see the logic, primarily because it is inane. It obviously does change how a manager manages a game. An American league manager only has to watch his pitcher and decide when to switch to a reliever. In the National league, there is much more strategy involved as all who follow both leagues know.

And for the record the National League outdrew the American League in 2015 by over 4 million fans. So much for the DH.

Are these players careers over

There are a few dozen free agents out there and time is running out for these players as teams are reporting to spring training camps. As a disclaimer I am in no way endorsing any team sign any of these players. Jimmy Rollins is 37, and Marlon Byrd is 38, still young for most people, but in baseball years they are senior citizen.  So there are certain players that you see no future for, that you understand why there is no interest, but . . .

Austin Jackson is 29, a decent outfielder who can steal bases and hit a few homers. He has been a starter, maybe he still wants to be one, but as a fourth outfielder, to platoon against lefties, he still has a future. Does he want too much money? Is that keeping him off a roster? Another outfielder is Drew Stubbs who had his best year in 2014 hitting .283 for the Rockies. He is 31, but last year hit .195 between Colorado and Texas and though he strikes out 34% of the time and is a .244 career hitter, he could be a fifth outfielder for someone. Does anyone use the phrase ‘veteran presence’ anymore?

Need an infielder? Ian Desmond is 30, and hit .255 and .233 the last two years, but hit 43 home runs and stole 37 bases. He and Jackson can still win some games for somebody. Again is it money? Another player to help win games is David Freese, 32, and former World Series hero. What, nobody wants this guy. He hit .257 with 14 homers for the Angels in 2015.

Starting pitching is still available. Tim Lincecum is 31 and his ERA since 2012 has been 5.18, 4.37, 4.74, and last year 4.13 in 15 starts. But he is smart, a two time Cy Young winner, and can still be a fourth or fifth starter. Rumor has it he will sign with someone shortly as he has looked good in workouts. So who started the rumor is my question.

But I understand why teams avoid Chad Billingsley, 31, who made two starts in 2013, missed all of 2014 and last year in seven starts with the Phillies did not look good at all. A 5.84 ERA and 53 hits in 37 innings, but only 8 walks.

Two players I intended to mention were Yovani Gallardo and Dexter Fowler, but as I was writing the draft for this piece it was announced Gallardo signed with the Orioles and it was expected Fowler would also join the Orioles. Gallardo got a  three year deal. So perhaps the last dominos are beginning to fall.

Baseball is a tough journey for some players; some stars fall out of the baseball galaxy. Not all go out with a blaze of glory. Some just disappear.

 

 

Who follows Nori Aoki in Seattle Mariner 2016 lineup

At the moment Nori Aoki will bat leadoff and play left field. Both Jerry Dipoto, Mariner’s GM, and Scott Servais, M’s manager, have pretty much given him that job. That will be against right handed pitchers as Aoki bats left. The number two hitter could be Ketel Marte, but a 2-3-4 of Seager-Cano-and Cruz might be better at the beginning of the season. Marte impressed in his call-up last season, hitting .283 in  57 games, but the two slot puts a lot of pressure on a 22-year old to get on base for the big bats. And seasoned hitters batting 2-3-4 should create more offense.

Adam Lind at first will bat fifth giving a L-L-L-R-L in the first five batters. The sixth slot is likely Seth Smith, another left handed bat, and he would be in right if Cruz is at DH or the DH with Cruz in right.

That leaves catcher Chris Iannetta in the seventh slot with every Mariner fan hoping he will hit better than his .188 showing for the Angels in 2015.  He bats right, but the only other catcher is backup Steve Clevenger who bats left, but he is also in the mix as a back up at first and occasional DH. Dipoto and Servais want Zunino to begin in Tacoma, but you never know. He has trouble with major league pitching, not much trouble in AAA, so even if he starts well in Tacoma, that is no guarantee he will hit in Seattle. 

The eighth and ninth slots are likely to be Marte and Leonys Martin. Both are speedsters and base stealers and have potential for creating RBI opportunities for Aoki and Seager.

The lineup against a southpaw pitcher is harder to figure. Franklin Gutierrez and Jesus Montero-if they like his defense at first- should see playing time, meaning Aoki and Lind would sit. In that case they might bat Marte leadoff, a switch hitter, to give him the opportunity to hit higher in the lineup and depending on how he does, ease him into the second slot as the season progresses.  Gutierrez in the second spot? could be. Then Cano and Cruz which would give you R-R-then L-Cano-R-Cruz, then Seager fifth from the left side. Montero sixth at first, Iannetta or Clevenger seventh, perhaps Chris Taylor as DH if makes the team and Martin ninth.

Dipoto has said there are only three spots open on the team. One is the utility player, the second is the backup first baseman, and the other is in the bullpen. The lineup looks better than the 2015 version, but then everything looks good on paper, or on the Internet.

Will the Mariners NEW bullpen be better in 2016

A great running line in the Newman/Redford classic, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” was “Who are those guys?” It was said by Cassidy/Newman when no matter what Butch and Sundance did to ditch a posse, they could not shake them. Well Seattle GM, Jerry Dipoto has shaken up the Mariner bullpen and brought in a new posse. But will it be better? At the moment it looks to be their biggest weakness.

Frankly at the moment it scares me. I think Dipoto has secret Freemason analytics unknown to the rest of us. Something found in ancient knowledge of necromancy, alchemy, and witchcraft. Looking at his acquisitions I ask, “Who are those guys?” 

There are 20 pitchers on the 40 man roster, six of which are starters, those being Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Taijuan Walker, Nathan Karns, and two lefties, Taijuan Walker and Wade Miley. That leaves 15 relievers, including one recently acquired for another reliever, also acquired during the offseason. By spring training all the following pitchers could trade as Trader Jerry likes to deal like a riverboat gambler.

Their are only six pitchers returning who spent any time with the Mariners and four of those are lefties. Charlie Furbush, 29,  appeared in only 33 games due to an injury; Vidal Nuno, 28, another lefty was 1-5, 3.74 in 35 games  (3 with Arizona), 10 starts; Mike Montgomery, 26,  who began 2015 as a starter was 4-6, 4.60 and though he had two early shutouts, his 16 starts indicated a five inning pitcher at best; Dave Rollins, 26, the fourth lefty was 0-2, 7.56 and was dreadful. From the right side is Mayckol Guaipe, 25, 21 games, 5.40 ERA and Tony Zych, 25,  who only appeared in 13 games with a 2.45 ERA.

Based on the five returnees Furbush and Nuno are likely to be in the pen, with Montgomery being a starter in Tacoma. Guaipe will have to compete with seven new righties and all have question marks.

Staring at the end with Steve Cishek, 29, the likely closer with 39 saves in 43 opportunities in 2014, but between two teams last season was 4 of 9 with 3.58 ERA. So a question mark as to health and if he can regain his previous form. The setup man is likely Joaquin Benoit whose only question is age at 38 as his 2015 ERA was 2.34 in 65.1 innings with San Diego. He also has closing experience. They should make the team. That makes Cishek, Benoit, Furbush, and Nuno. Along with 5 starters, that makes nine pitchers.

Assuming a 12 man staff that leaves three spots open between seven pitchers-at the moment. The odd man out of the rotation, baring another Iwakuma/Paxton/Other injury, is Karns. If he stays in the bullpen as long reliever, that leaves two spots. Besides Zych there is Jonathan Arno, 25, 6.97 in six games with Boston in 2015; Ryan Cook, 28, 8.2 innings between two teams allowing 20 hits, 18.69 era in 9 games. An aberration as he had three good years with Oakland and can also close games. Another former Oakland A is Evan Scribner, 30, 5-2, 4.21 career marks; Justin DeFratus, 28, 6-1, 5.51 with the Phillies in 2015; Cody Martin, 26, 7.92 between Atlanta and Oakland; and Joe Wieland, soon to be 26, two bad starts with Dodgers in 2015, career record 1-5 5.85 in 11 games. Anybody’s guess, so I pick Cook and Zych, or Cook and Scribner, or draw two names out of a batting helmet.

Dipoto has remade the pen and they can make or break the 2016 team, just as the 2015 pen sunk the Good Ship Mariner. I am at the moment a bit seasick and must get below deck.

 

 

Who said Houston was two years away and why

I recall hearing on sports radio in Seattle last season one of those baseball ‘experts’ say Houston was two years away, would not be in the playoffs , and yada, yada , yada. I also heard the same statement made at the all-star game. Houston will fall, they are too young, blah, blah, blah. It was said by many. Based on what?

My question is what sabermetrics, what algebraic calculations  made Houston two years away. First off the statement is vague. Two years from what? The playoffs, the World Series, moving to Tahiti? What will happen in two years? That is what I wanted to know, but nobody thought to ask.

Did this person, and he was not the only one, have a crystal ball? Or did he read tea leaves, or perhaps it was tarot cards.

In an era when talking heads say any dumb thing to get Twitter followers and more gigs on radio and TV sports shows in order to get a higher profile, there are many who simply repeat the prevailing thoughts of the day without questioning what everyone is saying.

Does it occur to anyone to wonder  what it is in two years that would make a difference. Are there more young players in the minors to put them over the hump? What happens to injuries of minor leaguers, injuries to major leaguers, trades, off seasons by those who were highly touted, and oh no, suspensions.

The facts are that teams expected to win will lose, teams expected to lose will win, teams two years away are relevant now. In sports nothing can be calculated over a period of time because each year is different, each season presenting surprises.

What is consistent are talking heads whose hot air blustering sounds like Rosanne Barr singing the National Anthem.

My fictional account of Charlie Faust and the 1911 New York Giants is found here in E-Book form on Amazon.

 

 

The Big Unit vs. Mark McGwire, 6/24/97 in the Kingdome

I would like to describe the weather that June day, but since I was watching in the Kingdome from section 311, row 17, seat 10, all I saw was a gray dome. The Mariners who were good that year winning 90 games had Randy Johnson 11-1 pitching against Oakland’s Steve Karsay, 1-7.  I thought it would be an easy win for the Big Unit, but this is baseball and nothing is a given.

Randy struck out Jason McDonald leading off the third, giving him six strikeouts in the first ten batters. Rafael Bournigal then singled, scored on Geronimo Berroa’s double, who then scored on Mark McGwire’s double, before Randy whiffed Jose Canseco and former Mariner prospect Patrick Lennon.

Mariners down 2-0 when McGwire comes up in the 5th with two down, both on strikeouts. What happened next is what occurs when speed meets power at a precise spot in the bat, the sweetest of the spots, unless of course you are a Mariner fan. I was sitting down the left field line and saw the ball jump off McGwire’s bat with such velocity that when the ball reached it’s apogee, I heard a thundering crack, or was it an explosion. I would like to say I saw the ball after that, but it disappeared from my view as it headed for the scoreboard high on the wall, above the bleachers, and so far away from the plate it was unreachable. I looked at the scoreboard to see what lights the ball would break. But alas, the ball did not get there. In my mind’s eye, however, it got close, real close.

It was estimated to have gone 538 feet into the second deck of the bleachers just below the scoreboard. Naturally it was the longest homerun hit in the Kingdome. And I was there to almost see it.

George Williams homered for the A’s in the 9th to take a 4-0 lead. Randy went the distance striking out 19 and walking zero while giving up 11 hits. He was the fifth pitcher at the time to have struck out 19 in a game. The others being Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, and David Cone. Carlton, a lefty like Johnson also was the losing pitcher in his 19 K performance. The 19 K’s by Randy was an American League record for a lefty and a Mariner team record.

The M’s lost 4-1, scoring a run in the bottom of 9th on Griffey Junior’s leadoff triple, scoring on Edgar Martinez groundout. Junior had a single, double triple, and walk in the game.

It was memorable game of course as you do not see 19 K’s every day, nor a 538 home run, nor Junior going 3-3 (a homer would have been nice though), but it still burns me 18 years later that Randy had 19 K’s and lost.  I did not know at the time, how could I, that the 538 blast may have been chemically induced. No matter. I lost the ball in the dark gray of the dome.