Monday, July 13, 2009


Sure enough, the Mariners took three of four from the Rangers in a key series right before the All-Star break. I think before the season that any Mariner fan would have gladly taken four games over .500 and four games off the division lead at this point in the season. It's been quite the first half, with the Mariners winning a decent share of games they had no business winning, while still losing a couple of games they shouldn't have lost (they're mostly young). I think the most telling difference between this team and last year's team, though, is that this team is extremely watchable as last year's team was completely unwatchable. That team last year was incredibly hard to watch. I sat there on most nights wondering exactly how the Mariners were going to lose that night. It's changed so quickly. If this team finishes with a .500 season, they'll have gotten a 20-game improvement over just one season ago, and that's amazing in itself.

The 2009 Seattle Mariners find themselves with a record of 46-42 after 88 games heading into the All-Star break. This record is five games worse than in 2007, but four better than 2006, seven better than 2005, 11 better than last year, and 13 better than 2004. Forty-six wins is also six worse than 2000, nine worse than 2002, ten worse than 2003, and 18 worse than 2001.

Mariner hitting went a combined 11-for-35 on the day, walking four times and striking out eight times. Multi-hit games were achieved by Ichiro, Franklin Gutierrez, and Ronny Cedeno (his "base hit" to third base was totally an error, I don't care what anybody says). Jose Lopez and Cedeno doubled for the only extra-base hits from Mariner bats. Hitless Mariners were Russell Branyan and Jack Hannahan. The team went 4-for-11 with runners in scoring position and stranded ten runners in all.

Now for the starting pitching. In his second start since returning from the disabled list, Erik Bedard had a considerably more crappy outing than his first outing coming off the shelf. Somehow, if it weren't for one really bad pitch thrown to Hank Blalock (two-run home run), Bedard might have gotten by unscathed. If he wasn't just coming off of injury, you would swear that this was just one of Bedard's vintage frustrating outings. Bedard gave up two runs on three hits in 5 2/3 innings, walking four hitters (verrrry high) and striking out five. He threw 56 strikes out of 93 pitches, getting seven groundouts to four flyouts (nice) and facing 24 hitters to get 17 outs. Bedard had two on and one out in the first, but got a double-play ball from Andruw Jones (lineout to Gutierrez, who doubled Michael Young off of second) to end the inning. A jam originated in the second inning when Hank Blalock and Marlon Byrd led off the inning with singles, but Bedard got Nelson Cruz to strike out, then got a double-play ball from Taylor Teagarden. After Jack Hannahan (supposedly a good defender) short-hopped Branyan at first to lead off the inning, Bedard compounded the situation by walking Josh Hamilton. Bedard then got a ground ball to force out Jones, then got Cruz to bounce into a force at second. Teagarden led of the fifth by bouncing a ball to third that Hannahan bobbled for an error, but Bedard retired the next three hitters. Bedard walked Jones to lead off the sixth and got ahead 0-2 on Blalock, who eventually and authoritatively homered to cut the Mariners' lead to 3-2. Bedard struck out Byrd before being pulled. He was definitely not without adventures and jams in this start.

Now for the bullpen. Miguel Batista was the first man out of the bullpen and gave up a homer to Cruz on the first pitch, tying the game and supplanting Bedard as the Mariner pitcher of record. Batista struck out Teagarden to end the sixth, then threw a 1-2-3 seventh inning. Mark Lowe threw a 1-2-3 eighth inning after the offense got themselves a 5-3 lead. David Aardsma allowed only a two-out walk in the ninth inning to record his 20th save in 22 opportunities. Batista gave up one run on one hit in 1 1/3 innings, throwing seven strikes out of nine pitches, facing five hitters to get four outs. Lowe threw seven strikes out of ten pitches. Aardsma threw 13 strikes out of 19 pitches, got one groundout and a flyout, and faced four hitters to get three outs.

1) Franklin Gutierrez
It's almost too bad the All-Star break has to come when you think of the Mariners' centerfielder. Gutierrez goes into the break having hit safely in 22 of his last 25 games. Over that span, he's gone 37-for-98 (.378) with five doubles and seven home runs (slugging .643). I just hope Gutierrez doesn't have his awesomeness hit the wall after the break. It kind of amazes me how he can does this with what seems like so wide of a batting stance (kinda like Jose Lopez). On the main camera angle during every pitch, it almost looks like Gutierrez is dug into the batters box with the insteps of both feet. He doesn't have the wide stance of a Jeff Bagwell or a Tony Phillips, but I guess maybe that makes it easier to get some lift on the ball to drive it. I know every time I tried such a stance, it never worked for me. Anyway, Gutierrez goes into the books having had a great first half of the season. I should mention that before the last 25 games, Gutierrez was a .251 hitter with a .339 slugging percentage. Now he's at .295 and slugging .445.

2) Chris Shelton
Here's the fun part where I try to squeeze a normal-sized paragraph out of someone who's only played two games as a Mariner. I had been clamoring for such a move since well before Yuniesky Betancourt went off with the injury, but I was doing so with the assumption that it would push Ronny Cedeno and his lively .168-hitting bat off the roster. Unfortunately, that hasn't happened yet. That said, the reason Shelton's in this spot is because of his tie-breaking single in the seventh inning. With two on and two out, Shelton was brought off the bench to pinch hit for Ryan Langerhans against lefthander CJ Wilson. Shelton fouled off a 2-0 pitch and whiffed on a 3-1 pitch, but connected on a full count, singling into leftcenter and driving in the pinch-running Luis Ugueto, I mean, Josh Wilson from second base with the go-ahead run to make it 4-3. I know they brought up Shelton from Tacoma to basically take Sweeney's role while Sweeney is injured, but I hope he sticks with the big club even after Sweeney comes back from the injury.

3) Ichiro
The Mariners' leadoff hitter has gone 8-for-17 in the last four games with a couple of doubles. His hitting streak is now at 11 games, having gone 16-for-50 (.320) over that span with four doubles (slugging .400). He's still hitting a paltry .296 so far in the month of July, though, so he's going to have to pick it up in the last half of the month to top the .407 from the month of June. Okay, that's a tall order. Maybe he can top the .377 from May. Okay, that's a tall order as well. Ichiro is sitting at .362 going into the break, and he's on pace for a 246-hit season. He has 126 hits right now, and it'll basically take a freak injury to derail him from getting his ninth straight 200-hit season. The guy's a lead-pipe cinch to get 2000 Major League hits. If this guy somehow manages to get to 3000 hits in a Major League uniform, he'll be the best (singles) hitter of the last 60 or so years if not of all-time when you consider what he'd already done in Japan when he came over to Seattle. The whole solution to all of this, of course, is for Ichiro to hit about .500 over the second half so he can hit .400 and break his own single-season record of 262 hits.

Jack Hannahan
In his very first start at third base after Adrian Beltre went off for the surgery on his left-shoulder bone spur, Chris Woodward had an error and some other misadventures at third base. In his second start at third base for the Mariners, Jack Hannahan had two errors. Supposedly, good to great defense is part of the reason Hannahan was brought aboard for the Mariners, and hopefully the errors are now out of his system. The Mariners now look like they can basically do a platoon-fest with leftfield and with third base, leaving Wladimir Balentien (you traded Betancourt, you might as well trade him) and Chris Woodward (possibly, kind of early to tell) as the odd men out. I should add that Hannahan struck out twice en route to an 0-for-4 day at the plate, which is partially due to the baseball gods not digging the fact that his Oakland batting gloves don't match with the rest of his uniform. The other funny thing is that Hannahan jumped onto the roster and immediately took Betancourt's number 7. If Hannahan can hit .250, I'll be okay with Hannahan. If Ronny Cedeno hit .250, I'd jump with glee because it's not going to freaking happen.

Olson on Thursday after the break in Cleveland.

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