Even before his team endured an agonizing, four-game sweep by the revivified Los Angeles Angels Sunday, Mariners manager Eric Wedge put out his heart on his sleeve, Piniella-style, for everyone to play amateur cardiologist.
“What I don’t like, what bothers me more than anything,” he said at his daily pre-game presser, “is when I see guys moving in the right direction, and then sometimes back up, to where you’re going over the same real estate. That pisses me off. I don’t like that.”
He wasn’t specific as to hitter. He didn’t have to be. The Mariners are in a pandemic slump. All are ill. They followed up Wedge’s crankiness with three hits Sunday in a 4-2 loss. While granting that the Angels’ C.J. Wilson is a premier starter, the Mariners couldn’t start a fire while smoking in petroleum pajamas on a haystack.
Nothing more typified the pathos than the manner in which they scored their second run. In the seventh, trailing 3-1, Jesus Montero drew a leadoff walk off reliever Jordan Walden, advanced to second on a wild pitch, to third on a ground-out and scored on a second wild pitch. The run counts, but it was a bread sandwich.
Not exactly what Wedge had in mind when he blew the Cavalry bugle pre-game.
Wedge’s ire stemmed from the fact that his young hitters, upon whom the franchise has hung a good part of its future, are falling back, even though he knows that’s what newcomers to the big leagues often do.
As a result, the Mariners at the 50-game mark are now 10 games behind the American League West-leading Texas Rangers, against whom they begin a three-game series Monday in Arlington. Last season, it took them 94 games before they were down 10.
In the same chat, Wedge also spoke of making progress, taking the longer view that requires patience. He sounded equally as hacked at critics who question his personnel moves and frequent lineup changes.
“Let me just educate you a little bit,” he said condescendingly. “You’re not going to have a consistent lineup until you know what your players are capable of doing. They’re too young. For all the yahoos out there who say you should play the same lineup every day, you don’t know s**t. Period. You can’t (set a lineup) until they develop as major league players.”
Whether Wedge is more dismayed at his players or his critics is hard to say. But it doesn’t matter. Wedge is talking out of both sides of his mouth to avoid the straight talk of being handed a flawed roster that is inadequate to win games as well-pitched as the one Sunday by young starter Hector Noesi. He gave up three runs on five hits in eight innings and kept the immense Albert Pujols in the ballpark, something the three previous Mariners starters in the series failed to do.
The Mariners lost five of seven in the homestand, and 11 of the past 17 overall, which includes a three-game sweep in Colorado against one of the National League’s weakest teams. The problem is as it was at the start and likely will be at the end of the 2012 season: A poorly constructed roster of overpaid veterans and unproven youngsters.
In the seven-game homestand that included facing some top pitching, here’s what happened with the heralded young hitters: Dustin Ackley 3 x 22, Mike Carp 2 x 14, Alex Liddi 3 x 17, Montero 3 x 20, Michael Saunders 5 x 20, Justin Smoak 6 x 23, Kyle Seager 2 x 22. That’s a cumulative .174 average for the Sub-Magnificent Seven.
Among the old guys, Ichiro at 38 was far and away the best 6 x 28. Collectively, two months into the season, this is potentially the worst-hitting team in the Mariners’ 35 years, which is a little like standing in the deepest part of the Pacific Ocean.
Coming into the game Sunday, the Mariners were hitting .197 this season at Safeco, then went 3 for 27.
But Wedge is adamant about sticking to club policy that the plan will succeed down the road despite the absence in 2012 of a prime-time hitter than can help carry the kids.
“If we make the same progress next year (as the Mariners have made from last year to this year), we’ll be happy,” he said with a most sincere straight face. “Most people won’t understand that because the focus is on wins and losses.
“The start-up (year last season) is one thing. Once you get past that, and play in the big leagues for a little bit, what you can do with a full year of progress is pretty real.”
At this point, he doesn’t have much choice to say what he saying. He and Mariners management picked these cards in the winter and must play out the hand, because there is no 2012 fix coming from the farm or from trades. And it must be said that pitching has kept the Mariners in games to the point where most are winnable. The team is half good.
But laying it louder and saltier upon the young hitters doesn’t make it any better. Management has left them naked to their own vulnerabilities, making matters worse for players who feel burdened by the obligation to deliver large in their first two seasons in the big leagues.
Wedge is trying to win ballgames and develop players simultaneously. That’s a formidable task for the best of organizations, and an over-match for this one.