BY Art Thiel 06:52PM 09/01/2012

Thiel: Angels look ready, beating Felix, 5-2

The Angels’ patient hitters, including rookie Mike Trout, a guy the Mariners could have drafted, bested the best in Felix Hernandez at Safeco Saturday.

Felix Hernandez can walk the tightrope only so many times. / Getty Images

Saturday was a Felix day at Safeco. It wasn’t a Felix game.

At least, as we lately have been trained to expect.

What it was, was part of the coming-out party for the Anaheim Angels. They clobbered the Mariners silly Friday night, 9-1, then outsmarted their ace Saturday, 5-2. They’ve won 9 of 11 games and look every bit the stretch-run powerhouse they are paid to be.

“We feel great about where we are,” said Mark Trumbo, who delivered the two-run single in the eighth that chased Hernandez after the Angels worked him to 119 pitches. “We’re hitting our stride, right when we need to.”

The Mariners, meanwhile, inch along. They keep expecting Hernandez to hold one-run leads. He’s done it 46 times his career, including 11 times this season into the eighth inning. Can’t stay on the high wire forever without getting the occasional gust.

The gusts, in this case, come from an Angels lineup that had seven hitters with averages entering the game above .275.  Their worst hitter was .249. The Mariners had two hitters above .275, John Jaso (.277) and Franklin Gutierrez (.288), and their worst hitters . . . well, the list is long.

But the killer irony is at the top. Leading off for the Angels is Mike Trout, baseball’s biggest sensation. Not only is he a lock for Rookie of the Year, he’s the leader for Most Valuable Player. Trout leads the American League in average (.336), runs scored (107) and stolen bases (42). He also ranks third in slugging and on-base percentage. Saturday he had two singles off Hernandez, one of which began the four-run eighth that led to his first loss since June 12.

At the top of the Mariners lineup is Dustin Ackley, who started the day hitting .232 and went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts against Ervin Santana, dropping his average to .230. He is line for no postseason awards.

Trout and Ackley were available in the first round of the 2009 draft. The Mariners chose Ackley with the second pick, behind pitcher Stephen Strasburg. The Angels chose Trout with the 25th pick.

Sure, it’s true that many teams besides Seattle determined that Ackley, a star from the University of North Carolina, was the most accomplished position player in the draft.  They all were wrong.

Si.com detailed the gravity of the errors by many teams who overlooked Trout. But having company is small solace for a team that looks like it is bearing down on the distinction of being the only team never to make the World Series, now that the Washington Nationals are reaping the draft-day benefits of so many bad finishes.

The Mariners’ continuing futility shouldn’t rest only on Ackley, who appears to be a serviceable major leaguer. But Ackley at 24 is nowhere near the producer that Trout (a high schooler from New Jersey when selected) is at 21. What he represents is another lost opportunity.

“Ackley’s been a little bit better lately, although the numbers don’t show it,” said Mariners manager Eric Wedge, whose electron-microscope eyes apparently see things others don’t. “He just wasn’t very good today.”

The Angels, meanwhile, were good. Trout, Torii Hunter, Albert Pujols, Trumbo and Howard Kendrick all had hits in the eighth against a fading Hernandez. What was the strategy, Albert?

“I can’t tell you, man,” said Pujols in the Angels’ clubhouse. “Why would I tell you?”

Fine, then. Let’s go ask Trout, who already hits better than Pujols and doesn’t know to shut up.

“We just wanted to be patient,” said the prodigy. “Felix is always down in the zone. He throws anything he wants wherever he wants. So you have to make sure not to chase (pitches out of the strike zone), and you have to force him to get his pitches up. You can’t be too aggressive against him.”

The kid gets it, which is why he’s 6-for-18 with a home run and 5 RBIs in his first season against Hernandez. And it’s part of the reason the Angels, despite a 13-15 August, are the kind of team, a blend of prime-time experience and breakthrough stars, that is ready to bust a September move.

The Mariners? They’re all about the call-ups in September..

NOTES –  The Mariners’ first September call-ups were familiar names: outfielder Carlos Peguero and RHP Erasmo Ramirez. Peguero was sent to AAA Tacoma July 30 after 12 games and a .146 average. In 76 games with Tacoma this season, Peguero, 25, hit .285 with 21 home runs. Ramirez started the season with the big club in the bullpen and later became a starter. He had an 0-2 record with a 3.82 ERA in 11 games, including four starts. He was on the disabled list from July 1 to Aug. 5 with a right elbow flexor strain. With Tacoma. he was 6-3 with a 3.72 ERA in 15 starts, with 58 strikeouts and 18 walks . . . Wedge said Ramirez would be in the bullpen and didn’t say whether he will join the rotation . . . Peguero will give the Mariners outfield depth after Michael Saunders aggravated his previous groin injury and was removed from the game in the fourth inning of Friday’s 9-1 loss. “I thought I was ready and maybe I wasn’t quite,” Saunders said before the game. “It’s tough to simulate game situations until you finally get out there and are running down fly balls off the bat.” Saunders missed six games with the injury, and likely will sit out several more  . . . Hernandez had to stop the game briefly in the fourth inning after his necklace broke. He dug the parts out of his jersey and handed them off to a clubhouse attendant.


YourThoughts

  • Michael Kaiser

    The piece says, “The Mariners’ continuing futility shouldn’t rest only on Ackley . . . .”  I broke out laughing when I read that line.  No, “[t]he Mariners’ continuing futility” has a foundation a bit beyond any one player, or ten players for that matter. 

    • Artthiel

       Well, Michael, I think we all know that. But I called him out, and felt compelled to toss him a fig leaf.

      • RadioGuy

        So winning 13 of their last 20 games (and all three losses in Chicago were very winnable) is considered “continuing futility?”  I guess I’m seeing it differently than you guys are.  I’m seeing a young team still learning how to win games at the MLB level (and starting to figure it out) while you two are seeing “same old Mariners” after a couple of losses to the Angels. 

        I’ve said this so often I should use it as a mantra while meditating, but 2012 is about progress and experience.  ALL of us (including Zduriencik and Wedge) are learning who can play at this level and who can’t.  The Mariners aren’t that far away from being a decent team: They’ve got loads of pitching (including the minors) and they can get it done in the field.  The “continuing futility” remains in the batter’s box and I think there’s a chance Zduriencik might want to do something about that in the off-season. 

        On the whole, though, I like the direction the franchise is going.  This is not 1980.

        • Michael Kaiser

          You wrote,  ”I’m seeing a young team still learning how to win games at the MLB level (and starting to figure it out) . . . .”, with the latter part, in parenthesis, obviously open for debate on any real higher level.  However, my point is that your statement could have been said, and has been said, during just about every Mariners’ season since day one, barring a five year or so stretch starting in the mid-90′s.  Interesting that you also feel compelled to argue, or raise the point, that 2012 is not 1980.  I will be the first to get excited if the Mariners ever really put it together, but in the meantime I have to lean with Art’s sentiment that it is quite possible that after this year the Mariners could be the only team never to make the World Series.  Conversely, I was down in Brentwood tonight and you should hear people talking about the Dodgers and the “bats” that have been added as of late.  I just don’t see the Mariners pulling off something that even brings one bat of that caliber to Seattle. 

          • RadioGuy

            It’s absolutely possible the M’s could be the only team to never reach the World Series after this year, although Cubs fans might ask what that’s worth. 

            I’m not advocating getting excited about a sub-.500 team.  I get that.  I’m just saying that the Mariners have slowly improved as the current season has progressed, and that a pair of losses to the Angels isn’t worth going into Here-we-go-again mode.

            It’s been frustrating as hell to see what has happened with this franchise since 2003 and “patience” has been an overworked word, but I’m going to remain optimistic.  If I wanted to be a pessimist, I’d be a Cubs fan.

  • Michael Kaiser

    The piece says, “The Mariners’ continuing futility shouldn’t rest only on Ackley . . . .”  I broke out laughing when I read that line.  No, “[t]he Mariners’ continuing futility” has a foundation a bit beyond any one player, or ten players for that matter. 

    • Artthiel

       Well, Michael, I think we all know that. But I called him out, and felt compelled to toss him a fig leaf.

      • RadioGuy

        So winning 13 of their last 20 games (and all three losses in Chicago were very winnable) is considered “continuing futility?”  I guess I’m seeing it differently than you guys are.  I’m seeing a young team still learning how to win games at the MLB level (and starting to figure it out) while you two are seeing “same old Mariners” after a couple of losses to the Angels. 

        I’ve said this so often I should use it as a mantra while meditating, but 2012 is about progress and experience.  ALL of us (including Zduriencik and Wedge) are learning who can play at this level and who can’t.  The Mariners aren’t that far away from being a decent team: They’ve got loads of pitching (including the minors) and they can get it done in the field.  The “continuing futility” remains in the batter’s box and I think there’s a chance Zduriencik might want to do something about that in the off-season. 

        On the whole, though, I like the direction the franchise is going.  This is not 1980.

        • Michael Kaiser

          You wrote,  ”I’m seeing a young team still learning how to win games at the MLB level (and starting to figure it out) . . . .”, with the latter part, in parenthesis, obviously open for debate on any real higher level.  However, my point is that your statement could have been said, and has been said, during just about every Mariners’ season since day one, barring a five year or so stretch starting in the mid-90′s.  Interesting that you also feel compelled to argue, or raise the point, that 2012 is not 1980.  I will be the first to get excited if the Mariners ever really put it together, but in the meantime I have to lean with Art’s sentiment that it is quite possible that after this year the Mariners could be the only team never to make the World Series.  Conversely, I was down in Brentwood tonight and you should hear people talking about the Dodgers and the “bats” that have been added as of late.  I just don’t see the Mariners pulling off something that even brings one bat of that caliber to Seattle. 

          • RadioGuy

            It’s absolutely possible the M’s could be the only team to never reach the World Series after this year, although Cubs fans might ask what that’s worth. 

            I’m not advocating getting excited about a sub-.500 team.  I get that.  I’m just saying that the Mariners have slowly improved as the current season has progressed, and that a pair of losses to the Angels isn’t worth going into Here-we-go-again mode.

            It’s been frustrating as hell to see what has happened with this franchise since 2003 and “patience” has been an overworked word, but I’m going to remain optimistic.  If I wanted to be a pessimist, I’d be a Cubs fan.