The Go#$%! Clusterf*$k of a Circus That Is Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong’s Mariners | Seattle Sportsnet

The Goddamn Clusterfuck of a Circus That Is Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong’s Mariners | Seattle Sportsnet.

As Season Beckons We Have Optimism for Our Mariners

Looking toward Qwest (football) Field and Down...

Baseball season starts Monday for my Seattle Mariners and after years of low or no expectations we enter 2013 with just a we-tad bit of optimism. It seems possible, even likely, the Ms will have their first winning record since 2009. And while unlikely, I think we can have a prayer that our Northwest Nine can challenge for a playoff spot. Even if they don’t make it, how exciting would it be to have our baseball team hold our interests before falling out of contention at least until our beloved Seahawks get their Super Bowl season underway in early September.

Five things of undeniable significance allow me to hold this sense of optimism.

1. The young players have all got to get better, because they couldn’t do much worse.

2. The fences are coming in at Safeco Field.

3. The Houston Astros factor.

4. Oakland and Texas aren’t as good as last year.

5. Michael Morse and Kendry Morales are the real deal and great and necessary acquisitions.

First off, Seattle fans have had to endure some of the historically worst offenses in the history of Major League Baseball each of the past three seasons. The moribund offense was made so by being turned over to a bunch of diaper wearing toddlers who

English: Seattle Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik a...

Seattle Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik at Mariners FanFest

General Manager Jack Zduriencik placed high expectations on. Some of them didn’t live up to those lofty expectations and are gone (See Mike Carp, Trayvon Robinson). And only one came in and seemed to exceed expectations. That would be 3rd baseman Kyle Seager who took over the position by default  as a rookie last year and proceeded to lead the team in home runs (20) and RBI (86). Outfielder Michael Saunders last year was where 1st baseman Justin Smoak

Justin Smoak - Seattle - 2010 Home

is this year. It was his last chance to prove he can be a solid major league slugger. Saunders came through last year after four years of riding the Tacoma Express. Like he’s done before Smoak closed 2012 with a very impressive set of numbers in September, and like he’s done before he has carried it into a very impressive Spring Training. But in his three years since being acquired from Texas in the Cliff Lee trade he hasn’t hit except sporadically during the rest of the regular season. Manager Eric Wedge and

Justin Smoak

Justin Smoak

Zduriencik believe Smoak is going to do this year what Saunders did last. There is reason to believe them…this time.

The other former babies who must learn to walk this year are Dustin Ackley and Jesus Montero. The 2nd baseman and the catcher both under achieved with their bats last year and since they were both labelled “can’t miss” prospects just two years ago Seattle can calculate an improvement in 2013.

Safeco Field, home of the Seattle Mariners

Second, the fences are coming in at Safeco. Changing the field’s configurations will undoubtedly allow the team to hit more home runs. Besides adding confidence to players like Smoak who will benefit by the 17 foot difference in home-plate to outfield fence in left field, you can subtract the emotionally crushing, motivationally discouraging effects on players the cavernous feeling of the previous Safeco dimensions provided. More than a few times in recent years we’ve seen players sulk over a ball they CRUSHED getting caught on the warning track. And bringing in the fences will make it easier for outfielders to play defense at Safeco. This undoubtedly gave Zduriencik freedom to go after less-than-stellar defensive outfielders like Raul Ibanez, Jason Bay, and Michael Morse; all of whom broke Spring Training in Cheney with the team and are expected to see a lot of action in the field this year since Morales is expected to hold down the designated hitter position regularly.

Seattle gets to play the

Gulf Coast League Astros

Houston Astros 19 times this year, and gets to play the Angels, Rangers, and A’s 19 fewer times. Houston had the worst record in baseball last year in the National League Central and many believe they’ll actually be worse this year. And while it’s true the other American League West teams get to play the Astros 19 times too, it’s much more significant for Seattle because Seattle will play a worse team rather than better teams each of those 19 times. The Angels, Ranger, and A’s will be substituting many of their games with Astros from a schedule that had them playing Seattle more where the results would be about the same.

Absolutely nobody expected Oakland to win the division last year. Few expect them to repeat, and most expect that last year was an aberration. The Rangers just lost Josh Hamilton, their best player. And they didn’t replace him with anybody. Nuff said.

Michael Morse

Michael Morse

Morse hit his 9th home run of the Spring yesterday, setting a new Mariner Cactus League record. I liked him tremendously when he played as a rookie shortstop and part-time outfielder with the Mariners in 2008. Hitting either #3 or clean up will be such a tremendous improvement for Seattle’s offense.

Kendry Morales

Kendry Morales

And Morales is also a huge improvement, whether he hits #3 or 4. Both players have hit 30 home runs in a season and unlike past veteran acquisitions by this franchise these guys are not so deep into their careers to be nearing their inevitable age-required decline or have it well underway. Morse is 31. Morales is only 29.

Seattle can win between 83-85 games this year. That 8-10 win improvement over last season’s 75-87 team can be mathematically expected just based on the 19 games against the Astros, all other things staying equal. But things are not equal. The Mariner pitching on paper (at least) is equal to last year, with hopeful expectations that some of their minor leagues can make late season appearances and improve the starting rotation. The offense is considerably better. Call me crazy but I’m predicting 88-89 wins and a pennant race at least into the start of September. God I hope I’m right. It would be so much fun.

Thanks for visiting. Comments are welcome.

 

Mariners Breaking My Heart

Safeco Field

Safeco Field 

 

We’ve reached the Major League baseball All-Star break and I’m overwhelmed with one recurring thought regarding my beloved Seattle Mariners…when does Seahawks Training Camp begin. This season’s Mariners season might be the most disappointing for me to date.

As I wrote in this blog before Spring Training, Really Looking Forward to Mariner Season, I wasn’t expecting a playoff team. I was expecting a team that would show considerable improvement over the debacles of the previous two seasons. So far, what improvement there has been, if any, has been so slight it doesn’t merit booking playoff dreams in 2013, 2014 or any time in the foreseeable future. And the future is never foreseeable.

 

Seattle enters this four day break with the worst record in the American League, fifth worst in baseball. Their team batting average is .230. For a whole season that would be the 2nd worst in franchise history, topped, or bottomed, only by last year’s .224 average. The lone bright spots are outfielder Michael Saunders and 3rd baseman Kyle Seager.  But after 3 years of failing to make a good impression at the Major League level and his teammates ineptitude Saunder’s .257 batting average and mere 25 RBI is inflated in the eyes of media and fans. Should we really be THAT excited about an outfielder that at best projects to a 50 rbi-guy in his 4th year of MBL service? And Seager wasn’t expected to make the team in Spring Training, did well, opened the season strong but has fallen off to a .243 average. His HRs and RBIs, 10 and 52, still project well. But it remains to be seen if he can pull himself out of his current long slump. And like Saunders, we’re all way to excited about a guy with a .243 average only because it exceeds what was expected and looks so favorable compared to teammates.

Dustin Ackley and Justin Smoak remain the biggest disappoints, given the franchise’s future high expectations were largely built on the 1st and 2nd basemen. Ackley can be sent down to AAA Tacoma for some more schooling. But other than Smoak there is no other full-time first-baseman on either the Mariner’s roster or Tacoma’s. So sending down Smoak isn’t an easy answer. Who’s going to replace him?

The Mariner’s offensive ineptitude is particularly acute at home, at Safeco Field, where they collectively bat .197 for the season, and mustered only 1 run per game during their recent 10-game homestand. Talk of bringing in the fences continues to be thrown out for discussion by restless beat writers. But a simple and available partial solution continues to be ignored by the Mariners management. Closing the Safeco Field roof more frequently is an advantage to the home team offensive that mysteriously gets no discussion. Miller Park in Milwaukee and Toronto’s Roger’s Centre (formerly Skydome) regularly keep their roofs closed, even on clear-sky days. Doing so warms the air and allows the baseball’s to fly better off the hitter’s bats. But Seattle fans continue to shiver during 40 and 50 degree nights while watching the most offensively inept team in MLB since the advent of the Designated hitter.

Seattle’s refusal to make tough decisions on veterans infects this franchise like no other I’ve ever seen. Ichiro is clearly not the spectacular hitter he once was. He hit .271 all last season and is hitting only .261 this season with an on-base percentage of less than .300, worst in the league. And as mediocre as those numbers are for most major-leaguers they’re made absolutely pedestrian by the total lack of power from the Japanese future-Hall-of-Famer. Manager Eric Wedgefinally moved Ichiro from the lead-off spot he is no longer suited to hold, and batted him #2 for the last two games against Oakland before the break. It remains to be seen if this is a permanent move. Ichiro should be allowed to finish his season here in Seattle. Then let him drift away back to Japan for an honorable retirement. His weak bat an 39 year old age make him no asset to a Mariner team seemingly more interested in nostalgia than winning.

English: Ken Griffey in June 2009.

Ken Griffey Jr

Ken Griffey Junior being the most recent previous example of this franchise holding too tightly to a star’s past glory long since vanished.

Chone Figgins

Chone Figgins 

And Seattle’s unwillingness to cut Chone Figgins is understandable, given his contract, but unforgivable given the team’s poor play and the fact that other younger more capable players are being deprived learning experiences every time Wedge marches Figgins out onto the field with his pathetic .186 average. Seattle needs to eat the remaining 1 1/2 years on Figgins contract and call it what it is, a failed free-agent signing. Then move on with the younger guys. I’m fairly confident Tacoma’s AAA outfielders Trayvon Robinson, Carlos Peguero, or Mike Wilson could manage a .186 average while having more HR pop than the diminutive Figgins. And being career minor leaguers thier MLB minimum salaries shouldn’t be a money concern like Figgins’ contract.

And speaking of Tacoma, Seattle’s highest level minor league affiliate is currently 38-51 on the season, last in their division and 4th worst in the entire Pacific Coast League. So much for building the franchise through the minor-league system.

English: Seattle Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik a...

Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik at Mariners FanFest 2011. 

So a couple of things are clear for the remainder of the Mariner season. One-hitting coach Chris Chambliss has to go. I’m not saying the poor offense is his fault. But given such limited options for fixing the problem, and given 2 seasons of the worst offense any where at any time some new ideas wouldn’t hurt. Second- General Manager Jack Zduriencik may need to start polishing up his resume. He’s had nearly four years to make the team better. It isn’t working. My patience is through. I’m really disappointed. And I can’t wait to see Matt Flynn throw the football.

Thanks for visiting. Comments are welcome.

 

Mariners: It’s Time For Ichiro to GO.

English: Ichiro Suzuki on June 10, 2009.

Seattle Mariner iconic right-fielder and lead-off hitter Ichiro Suzuki, who is more commonly known only by his first name much like Madonna and Cher, has given Northwest baseball fans eleven years of exciting baseball. He’s won awards, broke records, and solidified a spot for himself in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame following his retirement. But his play this and last season show that he’s done. He’s fallen and given his age of 38 it’s safe to say he won’t get up.

It’s early June and the Mariners are seven games below .500. Not all that bad given they’ve had to endure the worst schedule in MLB, playing more road games than any other team…including a trip to Japan. Ichiro started the year as the team’s number 3 hitter; a spot usually reserved for the teams best batsman. At the start of the year it seemed like a worthy experiment. But after two months Ichiro’s diminished batting average and total lack of power necessitated his move last week back to his familiar lead-off position in the batting order.

The problem is Ichiro is not the familiar player who slapped singles and occasionally doubles and triples all around the ballpark, and beat out infield hits, and stole bases on a regular basis. Last year’s drop in average to .271 was dramatic for a lifetime .300+ hitter. And wishful fans AND Mariner management hoped it was a one season anomaly created largely by the inept hitting around the great Japanese ball player. Despite two hits in last night’s win over the LA Angels Ichiro’s .259 average and .290 on-base percentage show that it wasn’t an anomaly, but a trend. Hitting .259 with an OBP of only .290 would make Ichiro one of the worst lead-off hitters in baseball. Such averages are more deserving of a spot 7th, 8th or 9th in the line-up.

Ichiro is making $18-million dollars this year. But his contract is up at the end of the season. Knowing the Mariner’s history they’ll want to re-sign him and let him retire having only played for Seattle in his MLB career. I’d be all for it if not for the team’s reluctance to do anything that might upset their ego-maniacal star. And if Manager Eric Wedge can’t bring himself to put the team first and lower Ichiro’s position in the batting order NOW when several acceptable alternatives are available for the team’s lead-off spot, what makes you think he will do the right thing next year. Do you really want another Ken Griffey Jr. situation?

Ken Griffey, Jr.

Ken Griffey, Jr.

Junior was brought back to the team in 2009 to end his career with the city and team that launched his Hall of Fame career. In spite of hitting a paltry .214 with little power, the nostalgia loving Mariner management team brought him back for the 2010 season. It was a disaster. Griffey was old. His interest level in playing was clearly diminished. He couldn’t bring his average above the proverbial Mendoza Line (.200) and he had even less power than in 2009. After being benched in mid-May Griffey left the team in a huff, announcing his retirement in a letter to management and leaving town without another word to anybody. The team suffered with and without him and proceeded through one of the worst seasons in team history, losing over 100 games.

The same ugly fate awaits Ichiro if Mariner management can’t do the right thing. He must be shown respect. And he must be shown the door. If they can get anything for him (and by anything I mean a bag of baseballs would suffice, given his age, his stats, and his contract) they should trade him to a contender by the July 31 trade deadline so Ichiro has a chance to end his career with a winner. Or, they should let him play out this season honorably. Then profusely thank him for his service and say goodbye. Then plan on a new right-fielder in 2013. Then, and only then can this young and improving Mariner’s team have a chance at contention.

Thanks for visiting. Comments are welcome.

Seattle Mariners: No Hit.

Safeco Field in Seattle.

Safeco Field in Seattle. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Miguel Olivo

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.

Michael Saunders

Michael Saunders (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

Mike Carp (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.