For the 21st time in the 120 years of Major League Baseball history a pitcher threw a perfect game Saturday in Seattle at Safeco Field. Chicago White Sox pitcher Phillip Humber (pronounced um-ber) threw only 96 pitches to go through the 27 outs without allowing a single runner on base necessary to record a nine inning perfect pitching performance. It’s instructive to note who it is that did the pitching, and who this amazing feat was accomplished against. In summary it marked the death of my optimism for an interesting season of growth for my home town Mariners who I no longer feel are “up-and-coming”.
Humber should be lavishly praised for inserting his name into the same pantheon of pitchers to record such a day’s performance. Most of the 21 perfect games were accomplished by pitchers of significant career achievement. The list includes John Montgomery Ward, Cy Young, Don Larson, Sandy Koufax, Catfish Hunter, Dennis Martinez, Kenny Rogers, David Cone, David Wells, Mark Buehrle, Roy Halladay, Randy Johnson. All Hall of Famers or NEAR-Hall of Famers. Humber is 29 years old and has an 11-10 career record. And while he may yet develop into an All-Star caliber pitcher he is already past the age when most pitchers establish the arc of their careers. And his arc is decidedly mediocre at best.
The Mariners who ignominiously inserted themselves into the loser side of this historic story included not one hitter with a batting average above the pedestrian level of .275.
The nine man lineup included two, Miguel Olivo and Japanese Rookie Munenori Kawasaki, hitting well , well, well below the long-established “Mendoza Line” for offensive futility. And first baseman Justin Smoak at .203 and Michael Saunders at .209 are just above the .200 level Hall of Famer George Brett named for the former Mariner shortstop Mario Mendoza 30 years ago. To say the Mariner lineup was and is weak is equivalent to saying Tom Brady is a good quarterback. It’s an obvious understatement.
Three months ago after the Mariner’s failed to sign Prince Fielder and instead traded for catcher Jesus Montero to bulk up their impotent offense I wrote of my optimism for an interesting season. A season that wouldn’t rise to the level of the Mariners being a playoff contender but would feature a lot of up-and-coming young stars who would forge a better season than either of the past two years and establish a strong foundation for winning seasons in the near future. But what has Manager Eric Wedge done since then? He inserted Chone Figgins into the lead-off spot in the lineup where he is currently hitting .226 after slapping a measly .180 last season. He has continued to use Olivo as his primary catcher though Olivo is only a .241 career hitter who hit only .224 last season and led MLB in pass-balls. This in spite of the Mariner’s acquiring not only the 23-year-old Montero but also veteran catcher John Jaso. Jaso started over 130 games for the playoff contending Tampa Rays over the past two years and in limited duty has been among the Mariner leaders this season in RBI and batting average.
The fact that Michael Saunders in flounder in replacing the injured Franklin Gutierrez is no surprise. I question why he was on the roster at the start of Spring Training to begin with. This is Saunders 4th season with Seattle. He hit .149 in 2011 and a career best .221 way back in 2009. While Saunders continues to flail Casper Wells sits on the bench, presumably counting empty seats at Safeco Field. Wells is only 27 years old and has a career .264 batting average in just two Major League seasons. And he also plays above average defense.
I strongly suspect Wedge is getting strong encouragement from Mariner General Manager Jack Zduriencik to play Figgins, Saunders and Olivo in a desperate hope of letting these players revive or kick-start their careers or in order to justify Z-Man’s decision to acquire these flops. What other explanation could there be? To continue to play players with a long history of poor performance over other young players with a history of far superior performance doesn’t make sense.
Furthermore, to allow 1/3 of your lineup to be devoted to last-chance reclamation projects that appear to be failing while other parts of your lineup also continue to under perform is criminal. Smoak has started the year worse than the .234 season he posted during an injury filled 2011 campaign. 38-year-old Ichiro is hitting only .266 and showing that last seasons fall to .272 was not an anomaly, but a trend. Starting short-stop Brendan Ryan pinch-hit as the final out in yesterday’s historic game. He was being given the day off to contemplate his .200 batting average and erratic defense. And youngsters Montero and 2nd baseman Dustin Ackley still show promise, but have started the season slowly.
All these players are hurt by two-thirds of the Mariners projected starting outfield being on the disabled list.
Mike Carp injured his shoulder in the opening game of the year. And Gutierrez injured a pectoral muscle in Spring Training. Carp has begun a re-hab assignment in Tacoma. Gutierrez has not started any re-hab and the time of his return is uncertain, though easily weeks away. Nonetheless, neither Carp nor Gutierrez were sure bets to be strong performers this year. In their careers both have longer stretches of poor-to-mediocre play than good-to-great performing.
It’s time to start wondering whether Zderiencik’s plan is working. Seattle baseball fans haven’t seen playoff baseball in 11 years, and won’t see it this season. But after two seasons of historically weak offense little has been done to make the team more capable of scoring runs. I had put my faith in the fact that Zderiencik and Wedge knew more than I did and the younger players and weak performing veterans would HAVE TO do better this year than last. Here’s the crux of this blog. I can be wrong, and few people care. After more than a decade of mostly bad baseball Zderiencik and Wedge can’t be. Certainly not when their “Plan” involves a slow, patient re-building that isn’t working.
Perfect pitching performance? Sure. Congrats Phillip Humber. Pathetic sub-Major League caliber offense? Definitely!
Thanks for visiting. Comments are welcome.
- Mariners camp report: With Jesus, Seattle seeks resurrection (cbssports.com)
- Chicago’s Philip Humber pitches perfect game against Mariners (kitsapsun.com)
- What Seattle Mariner is like a 3rd string quarterback? (ballsandstrikes.mlblogs.com)
- Humber throws perfect game against Mariners (king5.com)