BY Art Thiel 06:13PM 05/25/2011

Thiel: Yanks-M’s forecast: Relevant, sprinkled with fun

Seems like forever that a Yankees-Mariners series had some juice. But starting with Pineda v. Bombers Friday, the weekend has the makings of something memorable.

Yanks, Michael Pineda get first looks at one another Friday. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

Been a long time.

Children under the age of 15 are unlikely to have a recollection of a Mariners series with the Yankees that had any meaning beyond the semi-annual visit of the great franchise.

Anyone over, say, about 20, has no memory of relevance, either, because none of them can forget the pair of 101-loss seasons in the last three years.

The Mariners-Yankees tradition of the last decade – starting in 2001, after second of consecutive losses in the American League Championship Series – is for the Mariners to be finished with seasonal contention by around Memorial Day.  By Labor Day and another visit from the Yanks, the Mariners have fired the manager and brought up prospects for early spring training.

This weekend offers something different.

The Yankees are still the Yankees, and the Mariners are . . . well, fun.

In one sentence: Michael Pineda, perhaps the best rookie pitcher/defensive end in MLB, Friday night is going to throw his 100 mph heater over the plate against the team with the AL’s top slugging percentage, and dare the pinstriped swashbucklers to hit it.

Boom, as I believe either Carl Sagan or Albert Einstein once said, goes the dynamite.

For the Yankees, this is just another West Coast swing that includes Oakland and Anaheim, as well as the chance to buff their 27-21, division-leading record before going home to more serious competition.

For the Mariners and more for their fans, the weekend is an opportunity to experience a distant memory – relevance this late in the season.

On paper, working up steam for a 23-25 team makes no logical sense. But the Mariners at the moment are playing not on paper but on a chord, well-struck among the dwindling constituency.

The 3-0 triumph at Minnesota Wednesday finished a road trip 5-1 and was the eighth win in 10 games, executed largely in the only style of game that will ever work for a home team at Safeco – pitching and defense.

The idea that the Mariners will ever draw a slugger to Seattle’s pitcher-friendly expanse – compared to a slugger grown on the farm, as were Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez – grows sillier in proportion to the remarkable drop in offensive numbers throughout baseball.

Unless, of course, a round of “andro/clear” cocktails is ordered for the clubhouses.

The Mariners offense seen this season – walks, choppers, bloops, gappers and steals – is the future, aside from the occasional interruption of a Justin Smoak flex. Now more than ever, pitching is king, and the Mariners have the King and four princes.

The Mariners’ starting five contains three farm products – Pineda, Felix Hernandez and Doug Fister – and two trade acquisitions, Justin Vargas and Erik Bedard, meaning no expensive free agents. That needs to be the same formula for position players.

The notion of the Mariners being in the market for hitters such as Prince Fielder is foolish. Even if the Mariners could afford him while paying Milton Bradley $12 million not to play, no hitter of Fielder’s caliber would want to damage his career numbers at Safeco. All they have to do is look at what happened to Adrian Beltre’s numbers during his Seattle career. The park was not the sole factor, but if Beltre were to be publicly honest, that’s where he would put he would put the blame.

As far as the sustainability of the starting pitching, it’s anyone’s guess. The oldest (32) and most broken-down (three shoulder surgeries) among them, Bedard, won Thursday’s game with six shutout innings and has a 1.09 ERA over his last five starts.

Amazing.

But not so amazing that it can resist a dose of realism.

The Mariners lately have made the rounds of MLB’s low-rent district. In the past seven series, Seattle has played one game against a team that went into play Thursday with a winning mark – in Cleveland May 13, a 5-4 loss. Rain wiped out the next two games against the Indians, who have baseball’s best record.

Otherwise, the M’s have played four series against teams at the bottom of their divisions (twice against the Twins), and a couple of middling teams in the Angels and White Sox.

A year ago, they would have lost even to the rabble. But over those seven series’ 17 games, they are 9-8.

Not overwhelming. Then again, what team is?  This is a season of parity nearly equal to that of the NFL, where parity is a state-sanctioned religion (see Seahawks, NFC West champions at 7-9).

So the Mariners go at the Yankees over the Memorial Day weekend with some grip on competitiveness. It’s at least a quarter-miracle, if not quite a semi-miracle.

The notion hasn’t brought back the many for whom the bond with the team was broken last year – more than 17,000 tickets remain available for each game. That will take time, well more than this season.

Still, what are the recreational options for this holiday weekend – camping? After decades of this climate’s unrelenting lessons of late May, aren’t you sick of blue tarps bulging with rainwater over your camp stove?

Nothing would be warmer and fuzzier for a Seattle sports fan than to see Rodriguez diving into the dirt to dodge Pineda’s heat-seeking missile.


YourThoughts

  • Adsanislo

    I can’t wait to see what Mike “The Punisher” Pineda can do to the Yankees. Go M’s!

  • Adsanislo

    I can’t wait to see what Mike “The Punisher” Pineda can do to the Yankees. Go M’s!

  • Michael Kaiserr

    See you Saturday!

  • Michael Kaiserr

    See you Saturday!

  • Skysport

    “The notion of the Mariners being in the market for hitters such as Prince Fielder is foolish.” -Art Thiel

    I agree with that. Every time I hear some Seattle radio host pushing for Fielder it makes me cringe. As the kids say, “Child, please…”

    Hey, so far 2 wins for the M’s in the Yankees series. Even if the M’s lose today, this season has taken on a whole different vibe. This team isn’t “easy listening” any more. It’s got a beat. A heartbeat. And it’s booming, baby.

  • Skysport

    “The notion of the Mariners being in the market for hitters such as Prince Fielder is foolish.” -Art Thiel

    I agree with that. Every time I hear some Seattle radio host pushing for Fielder it makes me cringe. As the kids say, “Child, please…”

    Hey, so far 2 wins for the M’s in the Yankees series. Even if the M’s lose today, this season has taken on a whole different vibe. This team isn’t “easy listening” any more. It’s got a beat. A heartbeat. And it’s booming, baby.