The Mariners reached the quarter mark of the season in almost the same statistical position they found themselves in after 40 games in the 2011 season. And 2008.
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:
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.