On Monday Mariner’s GM Jack Zduriencik fired manager Don Wakamatsu after the team had gone 42 – 70 on the season and secured a lock on 4th place in the AL West at 22 games back. Along with Wakamatsu bench coach Ty Van Burkleo, pitching coach Rick Adair, and performance coach Steve Hecht. This is the latest turn in a downward spiral for the team that has included the loss of Ken Griffey, Jr. after he was benched for lack of production, the on-again-off-again performance of Milton Bradley, Eric Byrnes screwing up a suicide squeeze (Byrnes was cut a couple of days later), and $36 million man Chone Figgens public and vehement disagreements with the manager, culminating in a shouting and shoving match in full view of a national television audience.
This season’s team was built with pitching and defense in mind and putting players who could hit for average and with good speed (Ichiro and Figgens) on base. Bradley and Russel Branyon were to provide the power to drive them home. Some national sports magazines did feature articles on the Mariners and predicted a high finish and playoff contention. Except a funny thing happened on the way to the ballpark.
A couple of pitchers (Colome and Texiera) proved unable to play at the major league level and just about all of the hitters proved the same. Nobody, with the possible exception of Ichiro, hit anywhere near their career averages, and Ichiro hasn’t been consistent this season. The catching has been bad and the baserunning has been abysmal. After the turnaround last season this has been painful to watch.
By all accounts Don Wakamatsu has a good baseball mind and is a good man off the field but it’s evident that he let too many things go on for too long after it became apparent that the season was not going as planned. He hung on to players that should have been sent down. Hitting below the Mendoza line just isn’t acceptable at this level. One wonders if he stayed with non-productive players because there wasn’t anyone on the farm to take their place: not a good sign for the franchise if true. On the other hand, AAA Tacoma is in first place in the PCL Pacific North so there must be some talent available.
With eight weeks left this season is a write-off. The Mariners are on their fifth manager in the last eight years. I’m expecting wholesale roster changes in the off-season and hopefully some stability on the managerial staff. Perhaps the Mariner brain trust will take a lesson from the Portland Trailblazers and hire team-oriented players that work well together rather than focus on individual talent.
In the game Monday night against the Oakland A’s the Mariners turned a triple play in the 4th inning that started with a grounder hit to third baseman Jose Lopez and then went around the horn 5-4-3 to complete the first triple the Mariners had turned since 1995. I can count the number of triple plays I’ve seen on one hand, and it’s always fun to watch.
Curiously, I went to Wikipedia less than ten minutes after the play had been turned and found that someone had already updated the entry on ‘Triple Play’. Interesting.