The Mariners have reached the quarter pole of the 2012 season. But before we get to that, let’s rewind to Feb. 10, when the first wave of pitchers and catchers trickled into spring training in Peoria, AZ. With four months to heal his wounds from a 95-loss, 2011 season, manager Eric Wedge came off the acme of upbeat.
“I’m sticking my neck out, but I think this should be the year we take a significant leap forward offensively and I’ll be disappointed if we don’t,” Wedge told spring training scribes. “That’s how confident I am in our plan and these young kids.”
A week into spring training, Wedge had seen nothing to ebb his enthusiasm. In fact, he seemed even more agog over his 2012 team in the making. He uttered this Feb. 18:
“I don’t think you can come out here (workouts) and not see a difference, whether defensively, or particularly in the batter’s box when they’re taking BP,” said Wedge. “We’re much further along, we’re much better, we’re going to be a much better offensive ballclub because of the experience we gained last year, some of the additions we made, and not just some of the good, but some of the bad we went through last year.”
Three days after that (Feb. 21), Wedge announced that Ichiro would move out of his traditional leadoff spot and bat third, with Chone Figgins moving to the No. 1 hole.
“He’s (Ichiro) as smart a baseball player as we have in there, and he understands the game very well,” Wedge said. “He understands what the responsibility and priorities are with somebody hitting third, and I’m trusting in that.”
About Figgins, who hit .188 in an abbreviated — and awful — 2011, Wedge said, “I’m confident he can get back to his old self as the leadoff hitter.”
Good thing Wedge doesn’t play the stock market or make frequent junkets to Las Vegas. Or, to fracture a sentence, Nostradamus Eric Wedge, he ain’t.
Maybe it’s unfair to toss Wedge’s words back at him, but the Mariners reached the 40-game mark Thursday in Cleveland, where they lost 6-5 in 11 innings after blowing the 4-0 lead they took into the seventh, as if they never left 2011. See for yourself:
Or, for a bit of historical perspective, rewind to the 2008 Mariners after 40 games. Those Mariners were, by the way, voted Seattle’s worst modern-era team by the Great Book of Seattle Sports Lists (published 2009), largely on the basis of being the first major league franchise to lose 100 games (61-101) with a $100 million payroll.
So much for rosy outlooks, expected improvements, and all statements, predictions and musings issued during spring training, an exercise baseball historian Art Hill once described as a “season written in the sand.”
Actually, the Mariners have made one improvement, in home run production (33 this year to 23 last year). But the gain in long balls has resulted in one more run this year over last, that the result of Seattle’s abysmal situational hitting — .096 batting average with runners in scoring position on this road trip, to cite recent ineptitude, which has gone like this:
- May 11 at New York (L, 6-2): 0-for-5 w/RISP, 7 LOB, 4 K’s
- May 12 at New York (L, 6-2): 0-for-5 w/RISP, 6 LOB, 8 K’s
- May 13 at New York (W, 6-2): 3-for-9 w/ RISP, 6 LOB, 6 K’s
- May 14 at Boston (L, 6-1): 0-for-6 w/RISP, 6 LOB, 6 K’s
- May 15 at Boston (L, 5-0): 0-for-3 w/RISP, 6 LOB, 10 K’s
- May 16 at Cleveland (L, 9-3): 0-for-6 w/RIPS, 3 LOB, 6 K’s
- May 17 at Cleveland (L, 6-5): 2-for-18 w/RISP, 11 LOB, 14 K’s
- Total: Won 1, Lost 6; .096 BA w/RISP, 45 LOB, 54 K’s
Wedge tried Figgins at leadoff, the Mariners equivalent of Ford rolling out the Edsel. Ichiro is blamed, by Wedge, for not being a run-producing No. 3 hitter, when the Mariners should do penance (at least 10 Our Fathers and 10 Hail Marys) for failing to develop a real No. 3 hitter and forcing a natural leadoff man into that job.
That’s not to excuse Ichiro’s amazing failure to produce in the clutch — .171 BA with runners in scoring position — but here’s what Wedge is left with:
His best clutch hitter is his backup catcher, John Jaso (how many teams in MLB history can make that claim?). His best defensive infielder, Brendan Ryan, is hitting .153. His team ranks 11th in runs scored, 13th in batting average, 14th in on-base percentage, 13th in slugging and 13th in on-base+slugging.
When cameras pan to Wedge in the Mariners dugout, you can see he is trying to figure out WTF to do. Sitting underneath his cap, what would you do? — a plunge off the Columbia Center not being an option.
Just because the Mariners arrived at the 40-game mark this season looking exactly like the ragamuffins of 2011 does not mean 2012 will end the same way as last year. But maybe it will, which is where you come in.
Still more work to do by Z, especially on the mound. Bring up the kids in Jacksonville after the break. They just as well get a good piece of the bigs this year. Why wait? That alone would keep fan interest at least luke warm, because now, it’s starting to get COOOOOLD.
I keep thinking the M’s will have that one big losing streak like last year that will make this season not worth following. It’s frustrating to see teams like the Brewers and Diamondbacks turn it around in one season and the hear the M’s say that they’re on an ongoing rebuilding plan. That’s been going on since 2003. Also frustrating to have a Hall of Fame player like Ichiro during that time and to have NEVER built the team around him. Sadly, he’s the new Dale Murphy.
But at least the stadium is pretty.
I feel sorry for Wedge. He bought a house here. He has been patient. He seems honest and fair, and he has been a very good straight man in those Felix commercials. But despite all this, Mariner ownership appears ready to forsake him, and anyone else who gets in the way of Ichiro pursuing his dream of reaching the magic 3000 hit mark. I mean what else could it be? Everyone knows that this should be Ichiro’s last year here. He is not worth what he is being paid, not getting any younger and he is definitely not going to get any better. The time has come to cut all ties.
I am not saying that he is why the Mariners suck. It is the current ownership’s who deserve that honor. Get rid of them and him. The only drawback to this scenario — the new management would probably get rid of Wedge and Z, and put in their own guys.
Sometimes you just can’t win . . .
He’s a good guy (I know from personal experience). There isn’t much he can do until ownership/management decide they want winning baseball in Seattle. They haven’t decided on that yet.
Agreed. Lincoln and Armstrong should be shown the door, not Zduriencik and Wedge. It takes time to build from your farm system, and that commitment from the organization has really only been in place since Zduriencik’s first year here, and even at that time it wasn’t a total commitment. Lincoln and Armstrong have both had enough time, and both have failed to show they are good MLB execs.
As for this year’s team, I did expect more than we’ve gotten from them, although mid May is a little early to start panicking. Most of these guys were in AAA or AA a year ago, so they’re having to really start growing up this year. At this stage, I’d be okay with 75 wins and visible signs of improvement (as opposed to that 85-win season in ’09 that was done with mirrors).
I keep telling myself the Mets were 73-89 the year before they won the ’69 Series and that miracles CAN happen in a short amount of time, but the more realistic timeframe for contention with the current approach and overall stage of player development is likely 2013 or 2014.
Which of our young position guys can play? here’s my take: Ackley and Seager, yes. Montero, very probably, but not at catcher. Saunders, Liddi, Carp, Wells, and Smoak, no way. They just aren’t very good. So we have two good starting pitchers, two or three young guys with good potential, a bunch of old guys who can’t play, and some pitching prospects in the minors. It’s bad, baby, it’s bad. I agree we need new ownership, but I kicked Lincoln and Armstrong around in a previous post, and the old man in Japan too, so I’ll give them a pass this time. But yeah: 100 losses is a very real possibility. Again.
ps I completely agree with RadioGuy and Cruddly: Wedge and Z are not the problem; ownership is the problem.