Monday, July 27, 2009


Dear Seattle Mariners, I am getting rusty. Signed, David Aardsma. While the offense hasn't helped matters by scoring a total of ten runs over the last five games, not many teams are going to win games when their pitching staff gives up 31 runs in a three-game series. With an offense like Seattle's, I'd have to say their chances of winning when the other team scores ten runs is roughly .001 or worse. The only reason I didn't say .000 is because we've seen this team win games this year where they had no business winning. What happened in this game? Jason Vargas -- called up from Tacoma in place of Erik Bedard, who was placed on the disabled list -- did his best Bedard impression early on and set the table for Shawn Kelley to put the game out of reach. From there, it was just a lazy Sunday afternoon, but less fun since it didn't involve The Chronicles of Narnia.

The Mariners' third straight loss dropped their season record to 51-47 after 98 games. This pace is three games worse than 2007, but four better than 2006, eight better than 2005, and 13 better than 2004 and last year. Fifty-one wins is also seven worse than 2000, eight worse than 2003, nine worse than 2002, and 20 worse than 2001. Other post-millennium Mariner teams' records when getting their 47th loss: 67-47 in 2000, 116-46 in 2001 (they never lost a 47th game), 73-47 in 2002, 71-47 in 2003, 32-47 in 2004, 35-47 in 2005, 44-47 in 2006, 58-47 in 2007, and 25-47 last year. I should note that the 2007 Mariners at this point had lost their fifth straight en route to a seven-game losing streak. It put a damper on their season, but the true death knell was when they lost 15 of 17 to close out August and start September.

Seattle hitting went a combined 9-for-35 on the day, walking once and striking out seven times. Mike Sweeney hit a double for the Mariners' only extra-base hit. Ichiro and Michael Saunders had two hits apiece. Sweeney's 1-for-3 day bumped him to .254 on the year, which isn't bad considering he plays once every three or four days. Russell Branyan went 0-for-4, further accentuating his tumble into the abyss in the form of a .153 month of July. Furthermore, Ronny Cedeno officially sucks again. Cedeno stranded four runners on the day, going 0-for-2 with runners in scoring position and 0-for-4 overall. The Mariners' starting shortstop is in the middle of an 0-for-18 slump and is on a five-game hitless streak. Yuniesky Betancourt never had a hitless streak of over four games as a Mariner this season. For all his hacktastic ways, he also managed to hit .250, which is better than Cedeno's .174. Cedeno's given the Mariners .000 in the last five games. Something has to be done about this. Ichiro may be a shade off this month, and Branyan may be terrible too, but they'll be given the chance to hit their way out of their slumps. Cedeno's not going to give you much better than this anyway, so what's your move, Jack Zduriencik?

It was not a banner day for the Mariner arms, and it wasn't a banner series unless the banner was tattered and littered with graffiti. I picked the starter as the goat, so here comes the bullpen. Shawn Kelley came into the game with the bases loaded and nobody out and with the Indians leading 3-2. Three pitches later, Jhonny Peralta blasted off for a grand slam, virtually ending the game in the fifth inning. Travis Hafner and Ben Francisco followed up with consecutive singles before Kelley got a double-play ball from Jamey Carroll. Kelley still needed a third out, but walked Kelly Shoppach and allowed a Grady Sizemore single before he could get the third out. It was 3-2 when Kelley came into the game, and it was 8-2 when Kelley got the third out of the inning. Kelley gave up two runs on four hits, walking one and striking out one. He threw 16 strikes out of 29 pitches and faced seven hitters to get three outs. Miguel Batista then came in to lay his second egg in three games. This time Batista managed to stretch it out to two innings. A Shin-Soo Choo leadoff double started the sixth, and Choo scored on a two-out homer by Hafner that made it 10-2. Ben Francisco homered two pitches later, making it 11-2 and bringing the cascade of boos raining from the crowd. Amazingly, Batista threw a shutout seventh, allowing an Asdrubal Cabrera single and a Choo walk with two out, but they were harmless. Batista gave up three runs on four hits in two innings, walking one and striking out three. He threw 24 strikes out of 42 pitches and faced 11 hitters to get six outs. Sean White threw the eighth and gave up a leadoff Luis Valbuena triple, and he scored on a Hafner fly ball. White gave up the one run on one hit, getting two flyouts and a strikeout, and throwing 10 strikes out of 15 pitches, facing four hitters to get three outs. Mark Lowe threw the ninth, weathering a leadoff walk and a bad double-play throw to second by Branyan. Lowe threw a no-hit shutout ninth, walking one hitter. He threw 12 strikes out of 21 pitches and faced five hitters to get three outs.

To sum the bullpen paragraph, only Mark Lowe did his job out of all the Mariner arms that threw in the game.

1) Michael Saunders
The newest Mariner got his first two Major League hits in this game as well as his first Major League run batted in. His first hit came on an 0-2 pitch with two out in the seventh inning. His next hit was a two-out single in the ninth that scored Sweeney from third base to cut the Cleveland lead to 12-3. Okay, so his two hits came well after the game was out of doubt. The fifth inning rendered anything after it virtually meaningless...unless you grabbed your first Major League hit and first Major League RBI, which Saunders did. People in Victoria, BC, cheered the news, then probably went back and pondered whether the BC Lions should make a quarterback change. All told, Saunders bumped Wladimir Balentien off the team, and given that I thought if the Mariners traded Yuniesky Betancourt because he was maligned, then Balentien couldn't have been far behind. That said, I think Saunders is going to get more playing time than Balentien had gotten since the addition of Ryan Langerhans to the team. If Langerhans continues hitting .228 as a Mariner, I'd say the split of leftfield playing time could be 55/45 for Langerhans, but only due to experience. That should go out the window after the deadline, if you ask me.

2) Ichiro
The Mariners' leadoff hitter went 5-for-13 in the series with a double. He crossed the plate exactly once, and that was in the completely meaningless ninth inning on Saturday. You know, the one where the Mariners snapped a 20-inning scoreless drought and trailed 10-0 going into the ninth? Yeah, that one. The Mariners managed to hang in there earlier in the month when Ichiro was a couple shades lower than torrid, but now that Ichiro might be finding the stroke again, the rest of the team's hitting doesn't seem to be following suit. Sure, the hitting can only do so much when the pitchers give up 31 runs in a three-game series, but the last time the Mariners scored four or more runs (let's say that gives you a decent chance to win every night) was in the first game of the Detroit series, where they scored seven runs and lost (thanks, Garrett Olson). The offense has scored ten runs over the last five games. I know the pitching staff has made a mockery of their miniscule margin for error these last three games, but the offense really isn't helping out. Oh, this is an Ichiro paragraph? He's at 142 hits on the season and is on pace for a 243-hit season.

3) Franklin Gutierrez
He only had one hit in this game, so his batting average did take a small drop, but the one hit was a two-run single in the first that put the Mariners ahead 2-1. That lead lasted all the way to the fourth inning, so that's something to build on for the Mariners. The two runs were the only Mariner runs until the RBI single by Saunders in the ninth. Let's calculate the crazy stretch again for Gutierrez. In his last 33 games, he's gone 45-for-125 (.360) with six doubles and nine homers (slugging .624), and he's driven in 25 runs. As for July itself, he's had a 16-RBI month and is hitting .365 and slugging .608 with three doubles and five homers. I don't think there's any way this guy can hit over .300 for August. If he tails off, then someone else in the lineup will have to pick up the slack. Goodness knows who that'll be. I'd like to say Branyan, but I'm not even sure the guy will still be on the team in August. Maybe it's just the pessimist in me, but I keep waiting for the league to learn how to pitch to Gutierrez. At some point, he's going to have a dropoff. If he somehow finished the season as a .300 hitter, I don't think there's any way we can expect him to follow it up with another .300 season. I'd gladly take .270, though.

Jason Vargas
The serviceable lefthander was brought up from Tacoma to make the start, and the corresponding move had Erik Bedard being thrown back onto the disabled list. Little did we know Bedard's tattered shell of an arm would haunt the Mariners from beyond the shelf. If you just read off Vargas' line for the game, it reads like a bad Bedard start, except Vargas only walked one guy and only struck out two hitters. Other than that, 51 strikes out of 86 pitches in four innings looks pretty Bedardy to me. A look at the ESPN.com play-by-play says that Vargas threw 33 pitches in the first inning, but really was unscathed apart from the Sizemore leadoff homer. He hit Kelly Shoppach with a pitch with two out in the second, but then threw a 1-2-3 third. He allowed a two-out double by Carroll and a single by Ben Francisco that tied the game at 2-2. That set up the carnage of the fifth. Sizemore led off with a walk and went to second on a wild pitch. Cabrera bunted back to the mound, but Vargas thought he had a play at third on the fleet-footed Sizemore, which he didn't. His throw to third was well late, and instead of a runner at third with one out, there were runners on the corners with nobody out. Choo singled to score Sizemore and move Cabrera to second and make it 3-2. Garko took a ball to the body to load the bases with nobody out, spelling the end of Vargas' day. Kelley added the fuel to the fire by giving up a grand slam to the next hitter, Peralta, to set Vargas' ERA ablaze. Vargas gave up six runs on seven hits in four-plus innings, walking one and striking out two. He faced 22 hitters to get 12 outs and got five groundouts and five flyouts.

Too bad the pressure on Felix to stop this losing streak will be unreal.

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