Postgame Spread
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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Mariners' First Half    

Well, Hargrove is finally gone, Felix has started mixing his pitches, All-Star Game MVP Ichiro is all locked up (in part, apparently, because his dog said "woof, woof, woof," which meant "stay, stay, stay"), the Mariners are 13 games over .500, and despite a pretty bleak performance against Detroit last night (and whether or not you think they're going to get that close, ultimately), they are legitimately in both the race for the division and the wildcard. If you'd asked me a month ago if I thought all of this could come to pass, I would probably have said no. Add that JJ Putz is continuing (even improving on!) last year's dominance, and that George Sherrill, Sean Green, and Eric O'Flaherty have taken huge steps towards making the Mariners' bullpen among the best in the majors, and things are looking pretty bright. Never mind that it actually would be the best in the majors if Rafael Soriano were still in it (who did we trade that guy for again?)... oh well, if Mark Lowe and/or Kam Mickolio can contribute later this year, it may yet be.

Anyway, the bullpen has been phenomenal. Ichiro has been outstanding. The late hitting has been surprisingly effective. The meltdowns have also been spectacular, but for the most part we've given a lot worse than we've gotten. The list of starting pitchers we've beaten includes Dan Haren (twice!), Andrew Miller, Roy Halladay, Kelvim Escober, Joe Blanton, and Daisuke Matsuzaka. And there's more help on the way, as Adam Jones just continues to look better and better. What's more, Wladmir Balentien is finally making his supporters look smart, and Jeff Clement is rebounding nicely after a tough year last year and a horrendous April (even if he's mostly feasting on crappy lefties). It's been a good year.

On the other hand, Bavasi's moves last winter look worse and worse. We've gotten very little of value from Horatio Ramirez, and Rafael Soriano has unsurprisingly been much better and more available than his supposedly more reliable replacement, Chris Reitsma. And while poor Chris Snelling is hurt again, at least he's not clogging up our DH slot, costing us $6 million this year, and blocking one of the best hitters in the organization. But the team is better in spite of all that, and Jones should be up (relegating Vidro to the bench) any time now, so maybe it doesn't matter that much. Our bullpen is doing fine without Soriano. Snelling and Soriano would be nice people to be shopping for starting pitching right now, along with Balentien, but there's not much on the market to be honest, so the upgrade would probably be pretty marginal.

Not drafting Andrew Miller continues to look incredibly stupid. Morrow had a good month in the bullpen in April, but he's not actually very good yet and may not ever be all that good. Miller, on the other hand, has the chance to be a very valuable starting pitcher this year and a force to be reckoned with for years to come. He would be the perfect complement to Felix at the top of the rotation, and if there were some fantasy universe where we could trade Brandon Morrow for him right now straight up, I would put the odds of catching the Angels in the neighborhood of 50/50 at least. It would be one thing if the Tigers had somehow suffered from their decision to go over slot money to draft him, but since there don't appear to be any consequences at all, I'm pissed that the Mariners have decided to play by the rules. Oh well, that's not changing any time soon.

As for Hargrove, they say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and in this particular case it could hardly have done otherwise. But honestly, he was a better manager this year than he had been recently (if only because he was unable to call on extreme flyballer Julio Mateo to try to get double plays in the seventh inning while clinging to a tiny lead). And I have a lot respect, at least, for the fact that he passionately believed in sticking by his guys. God bless him, he even claimed he could hardly think of another LFer in the game who would even have been able to make a play on a long fly ball that Manny eventually dropped against us. He seemed like a loyal, principled guy who really loved his players, and I have to give him some props for that. He was also a complete dumbass, but that's not his fault, really. I blame the Mariners for not firing him a year ago.

John McLaren, Hargrove's replacement, so far does not seem that much better. Ichiro likes him, which probably helped us re-sign our best player, so he's got a bit of a free pass from me for now. But his continued insistence on batting Raul Ibañez third indicates he may not be prepared to use platoon splits enough to get full value out of this team he's got. I think USS Mariner put it best (sorry Jeff), just before the Mariners were about to face Kenny Rogers Saturday night:

Raul Ibañez since June 12th: .188/.225/.329
Raul Ibañez against lefties: .242/.255/.295
Rey Ordoñez, career: .246/.289/.310

Maybe try not hitting Raul third tonight, guys? Anyone out there? Hello?

Guess who batted third against Rogers that game?

Anyway, if the Mariners can upgrade their starting pitching without losing any of their key pieces, they have a legit shot. I don't think they can, so I think they're more of a longshot to reach the playoffs. But it's not impossible, if the talent in the organization is used to its full potential. Unsurprisingly, USS Mariner's suggestions for the second half are spot-on. The team's total offensive production and defensive efficiency could be significantly improved just by adding Jones. That's going to happen, and hopefully soon, which is really, really exciting. And the bullpen could be absolutely unstoppable by the end of the year. That's a good thing, because if they want any chance at October this year, that bullpen is going to need to do a lot of work.

Being smart about platoons and lineups with Ibañez, Guillen, Sexson, Broussard, and Vidro could be even more important, and that's where I don't see much possibility for success. I'm more optimistic that McLaren might be creative here than I would be if Hargrove were still in charge, but he's shown zero inclination so far. That's too bad, because apart from a Cy Young caliber second half by Felix, it's the only way I can see this team making the playoffs. But they've had a fair amount of magic so far, and the team is more poised for success than I could have hoped to start the season. It's been a fun ride, and I think the Mariners will still be in the hunt in late August, if not necessarily September. Felix could still pick this whole team up on his shoulders, though, so who knows?

Either way, I'm a pretty happy Mariners fan right now.

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