Refuse to Lose Part Two? Not Quite.
Everyone remembers Seattle Mariners‘ GM Jack Zduriencik publicly declare during Spring Training that it would be a “difficult season at the major league level.” There was some skepticism towards the direction of the franchise after that controversial statement.
What are we doing here?
On one level, everyone knew that we didn’t have a playoff contender on our hands and that has been readily evident throughout this season.
But, the problem lies within the boss of this team not even having the backs of this franchise and the young players that are busting their butt to make an imprint on this team.
As the losses mounted up it seemed as though the team took that statement, from the man that hired them, to heart. There were confidence issues, and a mentality set forth by the big man in the booth that says, “hey, you guys aren’t going to be good enough to compete at this level this year. Sorry.”
So what did the Mariners do? Keep losing.
As they slipped, tripped, and face-planted their way into the All-Star break, their record sat at a miserable — but expected — 36-51.
At times, the pitching was there but the hitting was ghostly. But, as soon as they hit the road the bats would light up like the Fourth of July. The offensive highlight of the season, thus far, was the 21 run explosion at the Ballpark in Arlington.
And after beating the Rangers 21-8 the Mariners would go on to lose 9 of 13 and essentially seal their fate at the bottom of the AL West.
Which, maybe was a good thing. Go ahead and solidify yourself as the bottom feeder in the AL West and focus on rebuilding this ball club. Essentially, hanging five, six or seven games back and teasing us with two-game win streaks was unfair to the the fans.
All joking aside, the downfall of this season was cemented in June. Other than Chone Figgins finally being benched, there wasn’t much to be excited about besides the occasional bobblehead night.
The Month of July
Things didn’t start out well in July for this ball club. It started by losing the rubber match of a three game series to the Red Sox and then stumbling into the All Star Break losing back-to-back three game series’ to the Orioles and the Athletics.
36 wins. 51 losses.
It was time for a refresher. This team had played some close games — a lot of disappointing one and two run losses — so it was time to go hang with their families, get a clear head, and focus on the second half.
Felix Hernandez made the trip down to Kansas City only to not play and watch the NL demolish the AL in an All Star game focused around booing Robinson Cano.
The Mariners returned home three days later to face the Texas Rangers only to lose two out of three at home as Justin Smoak led the team into another second half offensive slumber.
Obviously, they lost because the fences didn’t get moved in and it’s impossible to hit baseballs at Safeco Field. So, heading on the road to face the Kansas City Royals meant they had a chance at scoring some runs and winning some games. And sure as hell, they did just that.
Win. Win. Loss. Win. Next.
Bring on the Tampa Bay Rays.
Loss. Win. Win.
Hey, the Mariners just won two series on the road, back-to-back! Hooray!
The bats started rattling on the road early and often. They started scoring early in games and finishing the deal with solid pitching. It was winning baseball at it’s finest.
The M’s finished the month of July with a record of 16-11, their first winning month since May of last year. Since the All Star break, they have a record of 13-4 which amounts to second best in baseball.
Ichiro, Justin Smoak and the New York Yankees
After a 5-2 road trip, the Mariners returned home to face the Yankees but just before game time the Mariners held a press conference to let it be known that they were parting ways with Ichiro and trading him the the Yankees — awkward, because aren’t we playing the Yankees?
After Ichiro mumbled in Japanese about his time in Seattle the city and fans bickered back and forth about the good, the bad, and the ugly, of the deal.
Listen, it was a trade that had to be done and the Mariners did it at the right time so that they didn’t have to go through a messy offseason divorce with one of the most celebrated and famous sporting icons in Seattle history.
When I first heard of the news, I was honestly shocked. Ichiro has done amazing things in this city but he was the white elephant in the room.
He had to go whether you like it or not.
It was weird to see Ichiro go but, at the time, it was like a high school break up where the guy and the girl both understand that things aren’t working out and they need to go their separate ways.
Sure, I’m sad to see him go — he was a great member of the Seattle Mariners — but I’m not going to call the late night radio station that plays nothing but love songs and dedicate a song confessing how much I loved the guy.
And, I think that is how the rest of the clubhouse felt.
It was a huge weight off the back of a lot of guys not having the stigma of Ichiro Suzuki in the clubhouse on a daily basis.
Granted, Ichiro consumed the majority of the attention the rest of the series and deservedly so. It was the right way for an icon to leave a city. The Mariners went on to lose the series but came out of it feeling, in a way, refreshed.
They demoted the struggling Justin Smoak to Tacoma, which needed to happen. He was hitting .189 and had just 13 homeruns and a 38 RBIs while striking out what seemed like every time he stepped to the plate.
As much of the negative weight — other than you, Chone Figgins — that was feasibly capable of being shunned out of town was accomplished in one series against the Yankees and it was finally time to just start playing baseball.
The Kansas City Royals, the Toronto Blue Jays, and Winning Major League Baseball Games in Consecutive Order
As the Royals came to town it almost seemed like a new beginning. Carlos “The Strikeout Machine” Peguero was roving right field and the gentle winds of Smoak swinging and missing were felt all the way up 1-5 from Tacoma. There was a sense of, well, the same old losing Mariners baseball team in the air.
On none other than Stitch ‘n Pitch Night, the Mariners’ fiber arts enthusiasts promotion, the M’s began a winning streak of epic — for recent standards — proportions.
The Mariners knitted their way to 4-1 win in the series opener and then rattled off three more wins to sweep the Royals, giving up just 11 runs in the four game series.
The hot pitching continued as the Blue Jays came to town, bringing thousands of annoying, chirping fans along with them.
Hisashi Iwakuma plucked his way through thirteen birds, Jason Vargas pitched like July’s AL Pitcher of the Month that he is, and Blake Beavan did his best to give up as many home runs as he could and still win a baseball game.
Yes, the Seattle Mariners swept the Blue Jays and extended their winning streak to a season-high, and five-year high, seven games.
The Trade Deadline
Ah, yes. The most amazing day of the year. July 31st.
Lately, Jack Zduriencik has made it apparent that he welcomes teams to town, meets with their respective GM, and then drugs them into taking baseball players that we don’t want. Ichiro’s walk of shame to the visitor’s locker room was soon followed by Mr. Give-Up-As-Many-Homeruns-As-Possible Steve Delabar.
On Monday night, the Mariners traded Steve Delabar to the Toronto Blue Jays for Eric Thames.
If you remember correctly, that trade essentially equalled one win because Thames, in his first game as a Mariner, facing his former team, hit a ball into orbit over the center field fence to tie the game on Wednesday.
A game the M’s would eventually win.
Jack Z, the psychic that he is, obviously knew this would happen and is the reason that the Mariners extended their winning steak to seven games.
Moving along, the Mariners also, on Monday night, sent former closer Brandon League to the Los Angeles Dodgers for two human beings. Yes, Zduriencik actually acquired two humans that play baseball for Brandon League.
Crazy, I know
But really, these two trades were a necessity for a team in an obvious transition.
For Brandon League, the M’s acquired a future bullpen arm in RHP Logan Bawcom and an intriguing outfield prospect in Leon Landry from the Dodgers. League is entering a contract year and was unlikely to sign back on with the Mariners following this season so attaining something in return was imperative.
As for Delabar, he was an expandable piece to a deep bullpen and the Mariners added depth to an outfield that needs a punch in the arm.
Overall, the trade deadline didn’t produce the fireworks that many Mariners fans had expected but they made the necessary moves at the appropriate times. The M’s unloaded payroll heading into next season, got rid of the future headache that was Ichiro, and added five prospects that may or may not pan out.
Regardless whether they pan out or not, it’s a small step into a big window, hopefully, in the right direction.
And, we still have Jason Vargas. So cheers to that.
The Upcoming Road Trip and What This All Means
Winning games is a fun thing. Winning games in a row is even more fun. This last home stand the Mariners went 8-2, their first 8-win home stand since 2001. In that season, the Seattle Mariners won 116 games.
Call me crazy, but it’s statistically impossible for the Mariners to win anywhere close to that many games this season. So, don’t take that stat and run off to 116-wins-land.
Overall, what does this mean?
Simply put, it means that the Mariners got rid of Ichiro, sent Smoak down to Tacoma, and got over that damn mental thought process that they can’t hit at Safeco Field. It’s possible to hit at Safeco field.
And it’s certainly possible to pitch well at Safeco field, as we’ve seen with the ridiculous pitching performances of late.
The Mariners are winning games in many different ways and that’s a sign of a good team. This team isn’t great and this team isn’t terribly bad. It’s a mediocre team that is having a good amount of success right now.
It’s a step in the right direction.
Currently, the Mariners sit 7.5 games out of the wild card and 12.5 games out in the AL West. Let’s not get crazy. This team isn’t the 1995 team that was 12 games behind the Angels on August first and went on to the American League Championship Series after beating Angels in a one-game playoff and then the mighty Yankees in the infamous ’95 Divisional Series.
We don’t have Edgar. We don’t have Randy Johnson. And we certainly don’t have a young man named Ken Griffey, Jr.
What they do have is a young team that’s showing signs of turning the corner.
The pitching staff is essentially doing what the pitching staff has done over the last two seasons — keeping the team in the ball games. But, during this streak, the offense has come alive to give those guys the wins that they deserve.
But, here comes a reality check.
A nice, long, east-to-west-coast road trip facing the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and our favorite Los Angeles Angels.
Realistically speaking, I think it would be a major success if they can return back to Seattle with a 4-5 record. That’s a win in my book. This nine-game road trip is going to be a huge test to see just how much this team is maturing.
With that said, bring on the big dogs, but don’t bet on stock piling brooms on this road trip.