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Saturday, July 01, 2006

The State of Seattle Sports    

Despite disappointing recent seasons from the Mariners and Sonics (and major question marks remaining on both clubs), I think this is an exciting time to be a Seattle sports fan. The Mariners having a winning record for the first time this deep into the season since the 2003 and look to be strong offensively and defensively up the middle for years to come with Lopez, Betancourt, and soon—if Reed can’t get his act together—Adam Jones. Everyone knows that King Felix has struggled a bit this year, but he is still the youngest player in major league baseball, not to mention pretty awesome lately, so I think we can cut him some slack. Oh yeah, and the back end of the bullpen is as dominant as any in baseball. The Sonics put together a fantastic run at the end of the season after surprisingly savvy trades for Chris Wilcox and Earl Watson. Watson isn’t going to make me stop missing Antonio Daniels, but he’s a fantastic addition and Wilcox is the most exciting four we’ve had since Shawn Kemp. I think right now—if they can re-sign Wilcox—this is a better team than the one that almost beat the Spurs just over a year ago, but they need to play better defense.

So, without further ado, let’s take a quick look at Seattle’s chances in the immediate future at securing a few championships:

Seahawks: You all know I’m not much of a Seahawks fan, so I won’t spend much time here. Clearly, after a disappointing Superbowl appearance—which the team knows damn well was a winnable game—they have to be hungry. They’re as good a bet as anyone to repeat as NFC champs, but I still have trouble seeing a Superbowl champion there. Mostly, that’s because I don’t think they’ll face an AFC champ in the near future who will play them as softly as Pittsburgh did. But, if that receiving corps can cure their dropsies and the defense can keep improving, I suppose anything is possible. Good luck to them; with the improvement of the Cardinals (and probably at least to some extent the Rams and 49ers, who were historically awful last year), it's not going to be as easy securing all that home field advantage in the playoffs.

Sonics: You think the Celtics draft was frustrating? Everyone, and I mean everyone, is bashing the Sonics pick of Senegalese center Saer Sene. The big difference of course, is that there weren’t really any really exciting picks left on the board, so the sense having missed out isn’t nearly as palpable. Like Jeff, I can’t believe Boston (and Minnesota) passed on Roy, what a disaster. I hope everything works out for them—I like Boston’s team and I need to see Garnett in the playoffs again—but I have to agree that’s plain foolish. You’d think the recent success of the Suns (though they obviously have a “true point”) would indicate to folks that the most important thing is to put the best players on the court that you can. But maybe not, and maybe Telfair poised for a breakthrough. I’m mostly annoyed that Portland got Roy; I don’t think I’ll ever be able to root against him or root for the Blazers, so his career there is likely to be a persistent frustration for me.

As for the Sonics, well, I don’t think this draft was likely to help them that much anyway. The key to that team is the players we already have—many of them already recent picks like Ridnour, Swift, Collison, and Petro—and in re-signing Wilcox. Why not swing for the fences? In that spot, I don’t really have a problem with high-reward, astronomical-risk pick. And I saw some video of Sene; at least he’s athletic, not just tall. Supposedly they think he’ll be able to play good defense in the NBA, and if they’re right he could be an important addition. We don’t need our centers to score anyway—that part Ray, Rashard, and Chris have covered. Seems like he’s more likely to be a bust, but Swift and Petro have been a lot better than I expected, so I’ll give the Sonics the benefit of the doubt for now, since they couldn’t get Roy, Thomas, or Foye anyway, the only guys I was all that excited about in the draft.

I’m pretty bummed about all this arena nonsense, because I think the team belongs in Seattle, not Bellevue or Renton, but I’m excited about the future on the court. Since giving a starting job to Wilcox—who averaged 14 and 8 in Seattle, with some much, much bigger games—the team went 12-10, a winning percentage that would have been good for first in the division. It wouldn’t have been so great overall in the West, but it would have been playoff basketball. Granted, they faced a lot of teams that were already in or already out of the playoffs during that time, but considering that the core of the team that played so well against the Spurs is still there, with at least one obvious upgrade and increasing maturity from Swift and Petro, I think the potential of this team is real. And Ray Allen seems to just keep getting better. On the other hand, the Mavs, Spurs, and Suns (my pick for champs next year of Stoudemire stays healthy) will have a lot to say about that. Championship? Probably not in the near future, but this is going to be an exciting team to watch.

Mariners: Ah the Mariners, how you have tortured me these past few years. But honestly, I really believe now that the worst is over. This is the latest in the season the Mariners have been over .500 since 2003. Having gone 18-8 in June and 10-3 in interleague play so far, they are on a tear. After last night’s embarrassing loss to Colorado, and the losses of Texas and Oakland today, the Mariners are now tied for second place in the AL West, just two games back of Oakland. We also have the best run-differential in the division by a substantial margin—as of today, Oakland’s is actually negative. So, this is a winnable division.

It’s a little hard to believe, but then Texas is pretty consistently good for a late-season swoon, and Oakland’s injury problems are making them look pretty vulnerable. I think Oakland still has to be the favorite for the division, but Dave over at USS Mariner makes a good case that they really aren’t all that good. I think if Crosby and Bradley start hitting like they should and Harden can come back and pitch effectively, they’re still the team to beat. But I’m not sure those question marks are really that much smaller than the Mariners’ question marks. Can Beltre keep hitting like this? Probably not, but the steady diet of fastballs he’s getting while hitting behind Ichiro’s stolen base threat should help. And Sexson looks like he’s bouncing back.

As far as what to do next, how to handle this situation—the whole buyers or sellers debate—Dave strikes again with a very good description of the team’s needs. I’m not sure I really agree with him about the solutions, but then I don’t really claim expertise. And in a way it doesn’t matter too much, as the Mariners have already begun addressing those weakness. The trade of Asdrubral Cabrera, maybe my favorite minor leaguer in the Mariners system, for Eduardo Perez is tough for me, maybe wasteful. But Cabrera was never going to play for us, and overpaying like this (if it is overpaying) is fully in keeping with the way the Mariners do things, so it’s hardly a surprise. He’ll slot nicely into second in my list of former Mariners (or Mariner prospects) to root for, right after Bobby Madritsch. And as people have pointed out this should be a big help. Perez has a career OPS of .889 against southpaws, and this year he's killing them to the tune of 1.048, whereas Everett has been an absolute disaster against them. I’d still like to see Everett out (especially before his option for next year automatically vests), replaced by Chris Snelling probably, but I think that’s unlikely.

So unless the Mariners have given up on Reed, that’s probably the only major change in our position players, besides shuffling the bench. The next step is to figure out how to upgrade the rotation and the bullpen, which means deciding what the hell to do with Joel Piñeiro and Eddie Guardado. I think that’s really the key to making a real playoff push, particularly since Meche can not be expected to pitch like this all summer. It will take a lot for the Mariners to win the division, but starting in 2007 we’re going to be a dangerous team for a long time. If Adam Jones can hit major league pitching and Jeff Clement sticks at catcher, watch out. Our pitching cupboard is pretty much bare, but it’s really our only major need going into this offseason. Players like Jason Schmidt and Daisuke Matsuzaka are maybe high injury risks, but they both have incentives to come to Seattle, so who knows?

What I know is that this is the most exciting time to be a Mariner fan since 2001, and it’s about damn time. If the Mariners are still within striking distance after the Tigers come to town, I’m really going to start to believe. Here’s hoping to regain sole possession of second place tonight.

1 Comments:

  • Now 42-40 after escaping 7 earned runs from Piñeiro. On the "Fire Hargrove" watch, our ingenious skipper watched Piñeiro give up 5 runs in the top of the second and--get this--sent him back out for the third. Make no mistake, we were lucky to win this game. But you make your own luck, and having J.J. Putz helps too. And Ichiro. This team certainly believes in itself, which is new.

    By Blogger Jesse, at 2:43 AM  

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