BY Art Thiel 06:28PM 06/27/2012

Thiel: Almost halfway, Mariners seek 'good outs'

The Mariners have lost consecutive series to the teams with baseball’s lowest payrolls, and continue to be intimidated by their home park. Oh, and hello, Boston Red Sox.

Ichiro left three men on in scoring position Wednesday in the Mariners' 2-1 loss. /Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest file

As Seattle fans ponder how a team with 10 hits over three games can beat the Mariners twice, as the Oakland A’s did this week, let’s throw this log on the fire (or is it an ember?):

The team with an $82 million payroll lost four of the past six to the two cheapest outfits in MLB, the Padres and A’s, who each entered the season with payrolls of $55 million.

Obviously, payrolls don’t dictate single-game outcomes, but they are indicators of direction. The A’s under Billy Beane planned to be lousy this year, and certainly looked like 110-game losers in the series they played in Japan against the Mariners. But here we are, upon the weekend of mid-season, and the Mariners — 32-45 after losing 2-1 Wednesday at Safeco despite four pitchers allowing just two hits — are 5.5 games behind the A’s (37-39) in the much-anticipated battle for third place in the four-team American League West.

Yet to be made is the Shopping Bag of Shame large enough to accommodate the Mariners baseball heads after again being outsmarted by Beane and his ragamuffin franchise.

What are the Mariners doing with their $82 million? They are stuck, high-centered, going neither forward nor back. Manager Eric Wedge has become strident to the point of shrillness in his faith about these players, and then they embarrass the hell out of him Wednesday in losing a two-hitter by leaving nine men on base.

“Today was a little disappointing because we didn’t make very many good outs — hitting the ball hard,” was all Wedge could muster. “We didn’t do a lot of that today.”

No, they didn’t even rise to the Mariners’ new metric of making good outs — against a rookie pitcher, Jarrod Parker, making his 13th career start. Good outs? Does Tiger Woods get rewarded for keeping his scorecard accurate?

“It’s frustrating because I know these guys are a much better club than we’re seeing at home,” Wedge went on. “I don’t want to hear about the fences, or this, that and the other. It’s about getting up to home plate, putting up good ABs and hitting the ball hard.”

Actually, the fans don’t much care to hear about hitting the ball hard characterized as a primary achievement. And as much as Wedge doesn’t want to hear it, Safeco’s imbalanced conditions are weighing on the young guys.

Catcher John Jaso was willing indirectly to buck the no-bash policy about the ballpark. As owner of two of the Mariners’ four hits Wednesday, including the second-inning homer that produced their only run, he had some cred on the topic of why the club has the worst home record (13-21) in MLB.

“It is tough,” he said of hitting at Safeco. “No team that hits here has a production they would somewhere else. You go on the road and pop a couple out, and come back here. It’s a tough park.

“It’s a great place to play and the challenge is doing the best with it, knowing you hit that fly ball and you know it’s not going to go out. So you concentrate on hitting liners and grounders instead of fly balls. It’s kind of a different mental approach.”

Even Jaso knows that changing approaches messes with the heads of less veteran players.

“It’s a fine line,” he said. “When you start to do that different approach, and you don’t get results, that different approach can take away from your strengths. You don’t see production again and it really starts playing on your mind. This is a pitcher’s ballpark.”

Messed up as they are, the players are not to blame when one of their hottest hitters is kept out of the game. Young outfielder Casper Wells, who is 12-for-29 (.414) since his June 13 recall from Tacoma, did not play Wednesday. In right field was, per usual, Ichiro, who Wednesday struck out with runners on second and third for the final out of the second inning, then whiffed again for the game’s final out with the tying run on second base.

Yes, Ichiro has 15 hits in his last 34 at-bats, but when veterans don’t come through in such moments, it’s how a team loses one-run games, and loses a three-game home series when the opponent scores five runs.

There isn’t any reasonable solution this season. They can’t unload Ichiro, Chone Figgins or Miguel Olivo, can’t move in the fences, can’t smarten up the young guys in a season, and the club lacks players such as the A’s Cuban behemoth, Yeonis Cespedes, who can turn on any pitch in his area code and win a game on a swing, as he did in the seventh inning.

Although they could fire Jaso for speaking the truth in public. That should fix things.

MILLWOOD HURT – Starting pitcher Kevin Millwood came out of the game with two outs in the third inning after re-aggravating the right groin muscle he hurt during the six-pitcher no-hitter June 8. Wedge said he didn’t think it was serious, but an exam awaits Wednesday. Someone likely will have to replace him in his next turn, but Wedge declined to speculation on options. One is a promotion of Hisashi Iwakuma, who came in cold for Millwood and did a solid job, giving up only the Cespedes homer in 3.2 innings.


YourThoughts

  • Old Goat

    The more things change, the more they stay the same – as in the last 10+ years. With all the talk of moving the fences in how does it; prevent our opponents from benefiting also and how will it change the preached patience at the plate where the batter watches the first pitch right down the middle for a called strike, fouls off the second for 0-2 and then takes a swing at one in the dirt? It’s hard to watch these guys as attendance numbers are clearly showing. There’s always next year, then the one after then oh yes – football season soon. Although you’re used to the futility Art, it must be hard to be a sports writer in this town also. Thanks for your outstanding work.

  • Old Goat

    The more things change, the more they stay the same – as in the last 10+ years. With all the talk of moving the fences in how does it; prevent our opponents from benefiting also and how will it change the preached patience at the plate where the batter watches the first pitch right down the middle for a called strike, fouls off the second for 0-2 and then takes a swing at one in the dirt? It’s hard to watch these guys as attendance numbers are clearly showing. There’s always next year, then the one after then oh yes – football season soon. Although you’re used to the futility Art, it must be hard to be a sports writer in this town also. Thanks for your outstanding work.

  • Will

    The overly used word, “rebuilding” needs to be junked. The Mariners should be a skyscraper by now considering how long they’ve been rebuilding … yet they remain a gopher hole. The long ago Mets were “lovable losers” while the Mariners are simply aggravating losers. Hell, move the fences to just behind the in-field and they would still whiff.

    • Jamo57

      Just to give a little more context to Seattle’s misery, the Mets came into the league in 1962 and became the ‘Miracle Mets’ in 1969.   8 seasons.    The Ms were last in the post season in 2001.   This is our 11th season without the playoffs.

      And then there is the more telling statistic that this is the Ms 35th season, of which we’ve been to the postseason 4 times.    And only got out of the first round of the playoffs 3 times.    And 0 trips to the World Series.

      But holy smokes!   What a great place Safeco Field is to go to folks!

      • Will

        … and don’t forget all the cute TV ads, the M’s certainly understand the art of hype.

      • RadioGuy

        But to add more context to your context, Jamo57, the Mets were 73-89 the year before their Miracle season…and that was their best record ever up to that point.  They won in ’69 on pitching, defense and timely hitting.  Not one everyday player from that lineup will ever come close to Cooperstown unless they drive there, but they got hits when they had to (the Cubs folding didn’t hurt, either).

        For all the quick fixes the Mariners have tried since 2001, this is really the first full year of committing to this group of youngsters.  I definitely expected more from the offense (I think we all did), but the pitching and defense are in place and I like the overall potential of this lineup more than what the Mets had going for them in 1969.  Not predicting THAT kind of turnaround (they’d put me in one of those nice white coats where the arms come together in back), but I don’t think they’re all that far away from being a pretty good team.

        But they’ve got to live with the ballpark they play in and start to think line drives and grounders and stop swinging for the fences!  A warning track out is still an out.

        • Jamo57

          I agree with you RG that the Ms have finally settled on building the team the right way, through the draft and minor league system.   And to add context to your adding of context to my context, perhaps a better comparison of the Ms futility than the NY Mets of the 60s is to compare them to the Philadelphia Phillies who did not win the World Series until their 97th year of existance after having appeared in the Series previously in 1915 and 1950.   BTW in looking at their history in finding that information, Wikipedia mentioned a historic losing streak of 23 games in 1961 with a young team that went on to have a strong year in 1964.    Oh my God, are we headed for an epic collapse of that magnitude here in Seattle?
           
          But my overall point inspired by Will is that the Mariners ineptitude really is approaching historic levels.    I guess since we are so remote from the ‘national media’ we are simply forgotten rather than being elevated to Cubs, Phillies, or Washington Senators status.      I do salute your optimism, I occasionally have some but then I remember how Chuck Armstrong has somehow presided over the majority of our history.    Something will nip the tender green shoots of Ms success.  Probably just the franchise satisfaction and marketing of a .500 year.
           
          We only have 62 years to go until we match the Phillies.    Chuck can’t possibly live that long can he?

  • Will

    The overly used word, “rebuilding” needs to be junked. The Mariners should be a skyscraper by now considering how long they’ve been rebuilding … yet they remain a gopher hole. The long ago Mets were “lovable losers” while the Mariners are simply aggravating losers. Hell, move the fences to just behind the in-field and they would still whiff.

    • Jamo57

      Just to give a little more context to Seattle’s misery, the Mets came into the league in 1962 and became the ‘Miracle Mets’ in 1969.   8 seasons.    The Ms were last in the post season in 2001.   This is our 11th season without the playoffs.

      And then there is the more telling statistic that this is the Ms 35th season, of which we’ve been to the postseason 4 times.    And only got out of the first round of the playoffs 3 times.    And 0 trips to the World Series.

      But holy smokes!   What a great place Safeco Field is to go to folks!

      • Will

        … and don’t forget all the cute TV ads, the M’s certainly understand the art of hype.

      • RadioGuy

        But to add more context to your context, Jamo57, the Mets were 73-89 the year before their Miracle season…and that was their best record ever up to that point.  They won in ’69 on pitching, defense and timely hitting.  Not one everyday player from that lineup will ever come close to Cooperstown unless they drive there, but they got hits when they had to (the Cubs folding didn’t hurt, either).

        For all the quick fixes the Mariners have tried since 2001, this is really the first full year of committing to this group of youngsters.  I definitely expected more from the offense (I think we all did), but the pitching and defense are in place and I like the overall potential of this lineup more than what the Mets had going for them in 1969.  Not predicting THAT kind of turnaround (they’d put me in one of those nice white coats where the arms come together in back), but I don’t think they’re all that far away from being a pretty good team.

        But they’ve got to live with the ballpark they play in and start to think line drives and grounders and stop swinging for the fences!  A warning track out is still an out.

        • Jamo57

          I agree with you RG that the Ms have finally settled on building the team the right way, through the draft and minor league system.   And to add context to your adding of context to my context, perhaps a better comparison of the Ms futility than the NY Mets of the 60s is to compare them to the Philadelphia Phillies who did not win the World Series until their 97th year of existance after having appeared in the Series previously in 1915 and 1950.   BTW in looking at their history in finding that information, Wikipedia mentioned a historic losing streak of 23 games in 1961 with a young team that went on to have a strong year in 1964.    Oh my God, are we headed for an epic collapse of that magnitude here in Seattle?
           
          But my overall point inspired by Will is that the Mariners ineptitude really is approaching historic levels.    I guess since we are so remote from the ‘national media’ we are simply forgotten rather than being elevated to Cubs, Phillies, or Washington Senators status.      I do salute your optimism, I occasionally have some but then I remember how Chuck Armstrong has somehow presided over the majority of our history.    Something will nip the tender green shoots of Ms success.  Probably just the franchise satisfaction and marketing of a .500 year.
           
          We only have 62 years to go until we match the Phillies.    Chuck can’t possibly live that long can he?

  • jafabian

    If Safeco is such a hard place to hit at, then the M’s have forgotten when they lost 9-8 to the Indians at Safeco.  Or 6-1 to the Rangers.  6-4 to the Angels.  8-3 to the Dodgers.  How do they explain winning 7-4 against the Giants?  And so on.  In fact, why not start asking other teams to start moving in their fences as well to make games more fair for the M’s?

    Or…start learning how to use the spaciousness of Safeco.  Start getting on base and moving the runner over.  Start pulling the ball.  Michael Saunders seems to have learned that.  

    If the M’s were winning consistently they wouldn’t be complaining.  Right now they’re showing that they are a young, inexperienced team with all their grousing about the ballpark.

  • jafabian

    If Safeco is such a hard place to hit at, then the M’s have forgotten when they lost 9-8 to the Indians at Safeco.  Or 6-1 to the Rangers.  6-4 to the Angels.  8-3 to the Dodgers.  How do they explain winning 7-4 against the Giants?  And so on.  In fact, why not start asking other teams to start moving in their fences as well to make games more fair for the M’s?

    Or…start learning how to use the spaciousness of Safeco.  Start getting on base and moving the runner over.  Start pulling the ball.  Michael Saunders seems to have learned that.  

    If the M’s were winning consistently they wouldn’t be complaining.  Right now they’re showing that they are a young, inexperienced team with all their grousing about the ballpark.

  • sc400

    Maybe if can get some players that respect the game , but that starts from the top if the owners do not care then why should the players care about winning? maybe owners need start calling out the players instead of blaming it on the manager. until are owner shows a little heart then the player just going cash in the money.

  • sc400

    Maybe if can get some players that respect the game , but that starts from the top if the owners do not care then why should the players care about winning? maybe owners need start calling out the players instead of blaming it on the manager. until are owner shows a little heart then the player just going cash in the money.

  • SUDS

    This is the first year of hitting futility at Safeco, nor is it the first group of players that have had this problem. In fact, since the steriod era “ended”, the hitting at Safeco has continued to dwindle. While placing all the blame on one cause is erroneous thinking, correcting fixable solutions isn’t. Making adjustments to the dimentions of the power alleys and other specific areas (not just broadly “moving in the fences”) is needed as one part of the solution. The Mariners aren’t the first club that would be doing this; it’s not a new and novel thought. The Tigers realized that Comerica was a barn and made some changes. That, along with their young nucleus (that has lost over 100 games just two years before) sent them into contention for the next eight years. I’m amazed there is debate about making ball park changes…we’ve had good pitching and defence for years now and look where it’s got us. Oh wait, none of the players that have been on the team last 10 years’ teams “respected the game”. Shoot, I should have realized that.

  • SUDS

    This is the first year of hitting futility at Safeco, nor is it the first group of players that have had this problem. In fact, since the steriod era “ended”, the hitting at Safeco has continued to dwindle. While placing all the blame on one cause is erroneous thinking, correcting fixable solutions isn’t. Making adjustments to the dimentions of the power alleys and other specific areas (not just broadly “moving in the fences”) is needed as one part of the solution. The Mariners aren’t the first club that would be doing this; it’s not a new and novel thought. The Tigers realized that Comerica was a barn and made some changes. That, along with their young nucleus (that has lost over 100 games just two years before) sent them into contention for the next eight years. I’m amazed there is debate about making ball park changes…we’ve had good pitching and defence for years now and look where it’s got us. Oh wait, none of the players that have been on the team last 10 years’ teams “respected the game”. Shoot, I should have realized that.

  • Jamo57

    I keep coming back to Howard Lincoln’s view that SoDo can’t handle 3 sports venues.    Perhaps he’s right.    And as the Ms can’t seem to hit in that dense marine air of the waterfront, perhaps it is them who should move to Renton.   It seems like the right thing to do for the young kids, the port, and the community as a whole!

  • Jamo57

    I keep coming back to Howard Lincoln’s view that SoDo can’t handle 3 sports venues.    Perhaps he’s right.    And as the Ms can’t seem to hit in that dense marine air of the waterfront, perhaps it is them who should move to Renton.   It seems like the right thing to do for the young kids, the port, and the community as a whole!

  • Andy

    I say trade Ichiro. I am a big fan of Adam Jones and I am just glad he is not in Seattle to see all this crap.

  • Andy

    I say trade Ichiro. I am a big fan of Adam Jones and I am just glad he is not in Seattle to see all this crap.