Posted by: bkivey | 4 October 2010

Game Over

The Major League Baseball regular season ended yesterday and eight teams move on to post-season play. For fans of the 22 teams that didn’t make it I commiserate with you. We’ll have to wait until spring training begins in February to experience the stirring of hope a new season brings and we’ll be keeping a weather eye on the hot stove league activities.  Depending on your team’s record for the campaign just ended, a lot of hope may be called for. Probably a lot of change, too.

Due to the length of the baseball season it takes a couple of months to get  a feel for a team’s potential. In Mariner Nation it was apparent by June that pitchers weren’t pitching and hitters weren’t hitting, which pretty much covers the bases of baseball team ability. Or not, in this case. The Mariners built a team featuring defense and speed with three solid starting pitchers (Hernandez, Lee, and Vargas) in the rotation and a closer (Aardsma) who had a great year in 2009. The idea was to make it difficult for opposing teams to get hits through superior pitching and fielding and then put the game in motion on the base paths.

The reality turned out to be quite different. While the pitching was often good enough to keep the team in games, the hitting was sub-par and the base-running was abysmal. For the season only Ichiro hit above .300 and 16 players finished above the Mendoza line. For much of the season the line up contained a number of guys hitting below .200. I can’t count the number of times the Mariners had men in scoring position or bases loaded with one or no outs and could not score a run. Speed’s not much good if you  can’t get on base. There were a number of games when Lee or Hernandez only needed one run to win the game and Mariner hitters couldn’t deliver. If this was frustrating for fans I can’t imagine what it was like for the pitching staff to pitch lights-out ball and then get no run support.

And defense? The left side of the infield was one giant hole. Starting 3B (Wilson), SS (Lopez), and 2B (Figgins) combined for 57 errors during the season. Those three were responsible for more than half the total errors charged to the team. While their hitting was relatively adequate, surely the organization can find some people that can hit and field their position. I expect to see some changes here.

While the Mariners matched their 2008 record for futility with 101 losses on the year, a total exceeded only by the Pirates in MLB, there were a few bright spots.

Ichiro – It’s hard to say too much about someone who just recorded his 10th consecutive season of 200+ hits (214) and led not only the AL but all of MLB in hits this season while playing in every game. While he struggled at the plate here and there, results speak for themselves. Ichiro is not a power hitter; all he does is get on base, baby. And once he does, his speed is a real threat. More than once I watched his reputation turn a nothing ground ball into a base hit because the infielder got nervous trying to get the ball to first. The Mariners really only have two “franchise” players and he’s one of them. I bet he’d like to play on a winning team, though.

Felix Hernandez – The other franchise player, and cause for joy in Mariner Nation every fifth day. It was a rare day when Hernandez took the mound with less than his best stuff and all of his pitches working. Most of the time he was just nasty and a sorcerer on the hill. The trepidation felt by opposing hitters was matched by the confidence of those catching him knowing they had four good pitches with which to call the game.

Among starting pitchers Hernandez leads the AL in innings pitched (249.2), ERA (2.27), and is second in SO    (232) only to Jered Weaver (233) of the Angels. While his record (13 -12) is barely above .500, that’s much more a reflection on the team (see: lack of run support) than his ability. In nearly every category he is superior to his erstwhile teammate Cliff Lee and far better than last year’s Cy Young winner Zack Grienke. If Hernandez played on a post-season team the Cy Young would hardly be in doubt; as it stands, he’s in the running, but far from certain. Please God the Mariners get some bats to give him some support next year.

The Farm – The AAA Tacoma Rainiers and the AA Everett Aquasox won their respective league titles, with Tacoma  losing to Columbus in the AAA Championship Game. The Mariners brought some prospects up the last few weeks of the season and some of them look promising. After coming over in the Cliff Lee trade 1B Justin Smoak showed good instincts at his position but was sent down to work on his hitting and came back much improved at the plate. 3B Matt Mangini has shown the athleticism to field his position effectively and LF Michael Saunders showed good range.

The Ads – Once again, the Mariners led the league in creative and humorous ads through the efforts of Copacino + Fujikado. At least we had something fun to watch between innings.

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