Posts Tagged ‘Seattle Mariners’

To the Would-Be Victors Come the Would-Be Spoilers

The Seattle Mariners may have been on a bit of a tear of late, but they’re not exactly looking for a postseason shot that they’re just not going to get. However, read carefully: the Mariners have the single most tough schedule in the American League to come down the stretch of the stretch.

The New York Yankees and their minions love to say, no matter how the Yankees might be struggling lately, that the road to the Serious still goes through the south Bronx. But for the Los Angeles Angels, the Oakland Athletics, and the Texas Rangers, the road to the postseason is going through Seattle: 21 out of the Mariners’ coming final 24 games will be played against those clubs. The lone set with no postseason prospect involving the Mariners is a three-set against the Toronto Blue Jays.

And the Mariners won’t necessarily be pushovers, either. They might be dead last in the American League West (67-71, with only a vague hope of reaching .500 if at all) but since the All-Star break they’re tied for the second-best jacket in the circuit with 32-20, even if they did kind of fatten it at the expense of Kansas City, Cleveland, and Minnesota.

And it gets even more delicious when you factor in that it won’t only be the Blue Jays who have to deal with Felix Hernandez, who’s already thrown four shutouts in his last ten starts including his perfect game. Including the regular season’s final day, when—if he works on his regular rest—the Angels would have the pleasure of figuring him out, possibly with a wild card spot on the line for Mike Scioscia’s troops.

So who else really gets to play spoiler down this stretch? First, the American League:

Los Angeles Angels—One more slump, however, and the Angels go from possible wild-card sneak-ins to spoilers alone. They face the third-toughest AL schedule behind Seattle and Oakland. Six games to come against the Rangers, four against the A’s, and three each against the Central-fighting Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox. On the other hand, they also face six games with the Mariners . . . over their last nine games on the season. If the Angels are going to be fated as spoilers after all, their time is sooner than you or they might think.

Boston Red Sox—On scheduling paper the Red Sox have the fourth toughest AL schedule to come. Six games each against Tampa Bay, Baltimore, and the Empire Emeritus. That’s on paper only. In reality—don’t exactly bank on this year’s Red Sox becoming last year’s Orioles. Since The Big Deal they’ve gotten worse instead of better and it doesn’t look like anything can help them now. Which is another good reason to dump Bobby Valentine post-haste. He can’t even get them to muster up for playing for pride anymore.

Toronto Blue Jays—They have four against the Orioles, seven against the Yankees, and three versus Tampa Bay. Sorry, Yankee fans—the road to this postseason just might be going through Toronto or Boston, though right now Toronto looks like the heavier stretch to pave.

The National League’s prospective poisoners aren’t looking at quite the kind of roads the AL spoilers-in-waiting face. The league’s toughest schedule to come belongs to the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are fighting for a postseason berth still. But the second-toughest belongs to the Miami Marlins—who look at this writing and probably for the rest of they way as though the only thing they could spoil would be their fans’ lunches or dinners. The road to the National League postseason isn’t going through southern Florida this time.

As for the rest of the league?

New York Mets—They’ve been looking a little better since busting out of their last free fall with an 8-3 record over their previous eleven games. They still face six games with the Atlanta Braves, three with the Washington Nationals, and a four-game set against the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are still clinging to postseason hopes and just might get a chance to have the Mets throw them over the stern. Unlike the Red Sox, the Mets are playing for pride now and have the right manager under whom to do it. Terry Collins is what the Red Sox only thought Bobby Valentine would be, the difference being Collins learned from the past and hasn’t been swatting flies with atomic bombs or betraying his players no matter how no-nonsense he is with them.

Milwaukee Brewers—They’re facing four with the Nats and three each against the Braves, the Pirates, the St. Louis Cardinals, and the Cincinnati Reds.

San Diego Padres—Don’t laugh; the Friars just took two out of three from the Dodgers and have three more to play against them. That’s in addition to three games each with the Cardinals and six with the San Francisco Giants.

Further spoiler alert: At least a few of the aforesaid contenders (we’ve already mentioned the Angels in this context, alas) could be reduced to spoilers themselves by the time at least one of the current candidates gets to them.

A Perfect King

Sean Rodriguez could only look as strike three dropped in on him, the second consecutive strike at which he looked after opening with two balls and swinging and missing on the third pitch of the sequence, a nasty breaking ball that was nothing compared to what dropped in on him for the finish.

Felix Hernandez could only wonder if he was really there, when this happened to him, after opening all three Tampa Bay batters he faced in the ninth with ball one, then putting on a display of finishing what he started at a level once thought the exclusive domain of a Sandy Koufax. Maybe that was why, after he dropped strike three in on Rodriguez, he raised his arms as high as he could.

He was really there, pitching the first perfect game in Seattle Mariners history, the third in Show this season (following Philip Humber and Matt Cain), and the first by a pitcher whose own team was the victim of a perfect game (Humber’s) earlier in the season.

King Felix reaches perfection . . .

And he finished with a flourish. His ninth inning started with ball one to pinch-hitter Desmond Jennings, before a swinging strike, a called strike, and two fouls set up the swinging strikeout on a fastball down. It continued with pinch-hitter Jeff Keppinger taking ball one, looking at strike one, swinging on strike two, then grounding out modestly enough to shortstop. Then came Rodriguez. It was probably too much to expect Hernandez might strike out the side to finish the perfecto, even if he did strike out the side in the sixth and eighth innings, but it proved not all that much to ask him to drop a filthy slider in for strike three right in on Rodriguez to close it out.

King Felix started his afternoon pitching to contact, getting a leadoff fly out (Sam Fuld) and a pair of ground outs (B.J. Upton, Matt Joyce). He got the only run he’d need to work with in the bottom of the third, when Brendan Ryan (leadoff single) stole second with two outs and went on to third on a wild pitch from Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson, before Jesus Montero sent him home with a clean single to left.

He could have been forgiven if he’d been thinking that soon that he might need to be perfect. Until Ryan crossed the plate the Mariners had wasted scoring opportunities in both opening innings. First, Dustin Ackley’s leadoff single in the first got turned into a double play two pitches later, when Michael Saunders hit one on the screws, on a line, and right to second base, from which point Rays second baseman Ben Zobrist fired to first to kill Ackley dead. Then, in the second, a two-out uprising—Justin Smoak safe on an infield error and Trayvon Robinson singling him to second—got snuffed when Eric Thames flied out to left for the side.

You had to feel for Hellickson. On any other afternoon, a five-hitter with one earned run on a seven-inning jacket, and one inning of shutout relief from Kyle Farnsworth, should be more than enough to win a game.

Hernandez didn’t bring off his jewel without a few dicey moments here and there. He started with ball one to eleven of the 27 hitters he faced; he was behind in the count to nine hitters. But he was aided and abetted by a few first pitch-hitting Rays hitting into immediate outs, and he only fell as far behind as ball three to one Ray. (Zobrist in the second.)

About the only moments , and about the only moment in which Safeco Field might have had its hearts elevated into its throats were in the top of the first, when Fuld drove one to the track in right center where Thames ran it down for the catch; and, the top of the fifth, when Evan Longoria led off by lining one right past Hernandez’s glove but right into that of Ackley at second.

That was just about all the help Hernandez needed this afternoon. Maybe he saw what was needed in June, when it took six of his staff mates to no-hit the Los Angeles Dodgers in interleague play, and decided it just wasn’t right to ask anyone else to finish what he started, as if he wasn’t getting better as the game got later.

“It was in my mind, the whole game, it was in my mind,” he said when it was over.

The whole game is in the record books now. For the record, it’s the third no-hitter in Seattle history and only the second in which one pitcher did the job all by his lonesome. King Felix is traveling now in Randy Johnson’s company. Not a bad place to be.

The Trade Winds, Approaching the Eleventh Hour, and other sorties . . .

The Ryan Dempster situation may be hovering in mid-air, but that didn’t stop the Chicago Cubs from dealing elsewhere Monday. They sent Geovanny Soto (C) to the Texas Rangers for a minor league pitcher; and, they sent Paul Maholm (LHP) and Reed Johnson (OF) to the Atlanta Braves for another pair of pitching prospects.

The early skinny has it that the Cubs moved two players they really no longer needed and landed a prime prospect, righthander Arodys Vizcaino, for their trading. Vizcaino was considered the Braves’ number two prospect, and with a 95+mph fastball until he went down for the season with Tommy John surgery. The Braves didn’t come out terribly in the deal; Maholm has been one of baseball’s most quietly successful pitchers this season, and Johnson brings a boatload of platoon outfield experience while having a solid season. These two should help the Braves’ postseason push.

The Rangers didn’t make out too badly, either. Soto may have been slipping since his 2008 Rookie of the Year campaign but he brings defensive depth to the Rangers’ catching corps. This allows them to think of Mike Napoli playing first base and even DHing and of the end of the line for Yorvit Torrealba, who’s expected to be designated for assignment. The pitcher the Cubs received in the Soto deal, Jacob Brigham, was a sixth-round 2006 draft who never appeared in the Rangers’ major league spring camp until 2012. Brigham is considered a) a hard thrower, and b) gravy for the Cubs if he ends up with the team productively.

Meanwhile, Matt Garza hasn’t gone anywhere yet but that doesn’t mean the Cubs aren’t still trying to move him, too. At last note, the Cincinnati Reds and the Toronto Blue Jays looked like potential matches for a Garza deal.

FURTHER TRADE WINDS . . .

* The Los Angeles Dodgers bumped up their bullpen for a postseason push, landing former All-Star Brandon League—who was one of six Seattle pitchers to collaborate on no-hitting the Dodgers in June—for minor league prospect Logan Bawcom (RHP) and Leon Landry (OF), both of whom could spell good things for the Mariners in the near future.

* The Mariners also sent righthanded relief pitcher Steve Delabar to the Blue Jays for outfielder Eric Thames.

* The Blue Jays landed another starboard-side reliever Monday, getting Brad Lincoln from the Pittsburgh Pirates for outfielder Travis Smith—the Pirates, for their part, had been looking for help at the plate and in the outfield as they continue pushing for their first postseason appearance since the first Clinton Administration.

MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE JUNGLE . . .

BOMBS AWAY—Bad enough the Los Angeles Angels flattening the Rangers 15-8 Monday. Worse: All hell breaking loose in the top of the sixth at the Rangers’ expense. Especially what Kendrys Morales did to the Rangers in the sixth inning to bust out of a slump and frame a nine-run inning. First, with the teams tied up at three, he hit one lefthanded with Albert Pujols aboard, nobody out, and Roy Oswalt on the mound. Then, after five straight singles, with Torii Hunter a punchout but Pujols given first on the house to re-load the bases at two out, Morales batted righthanded against Robbie Ross and hit a grand slam. It made Morales only the third player in Show history to go yard from both sides of the plate. (The others: Carlos Baerga, Cleveland, 1993; Mark Bellhorn, Chicago Cubs, 2002.)

He made it easy to forget that Mike Trout homered, drove in four, and scored thrice. Or, that Pujols doubled twice. Or, that Macier Izturis homered.

GOING LONG—Striking out 21 Oakland Athletics in fifteen innings wasn’t enough for the Tampa Bay Rays, when Jemile Weeks—all 0-for-7 of him on the night thus far—took advantage of a five-man infield alignment to sneak a sacrifice fly on which Brandon Inge beat a throw home for the 4-3 squeaker. The win extended the A’s major league walkoff win lead to twelve.

Life During WARtime and Other Movements . . .

The bomb-robbing catch of the year isn’t exactly the only reason Mike Trout’s the most valuable Angel through this writing . . .

Life During WARtime—If you’re looking for an entry into the wide world of WAR (wins above a replacement-level player), David Schoenfeld of SweetSpot has a pretty good starting point, with a couple of links to a couple of more pretty good starting points. In case you’re wondering before you go in, Mike Trout—the white-hot Los Angeles Angels rookie—leads the American League pack through this writing with a 5.2 WAR, followed by Robinson Cano (New York Yankees) at 4.8 and Josh Reddick’s (Oakland Athletics) 3.9. In the National League, the top three through this writing are David Wright (New York Mets), 5.3; Andrew McCutchen (Pittsburgh Pirates), 5.1; and, Joey Votto (Cincinnati Reds), 4.5.

Piracy—Speaking of McCutchen, for the second year in a row the Pirates look pretty at or just past the midway point . . . but Jon Paul Morosi (FoxSports) isn’t the only one who thinks there’s a sterling opportunity for the Pirates to stand taller than they ended up standing in 2011. Summary: The Reds are going to be hurting without Votto (out 3-4 weeks following torn meniscus surgery); the Milwaukee Brewers are giving Zack Greinke a week off after he started three straight games (following an early heave-ho) and rolled a 9.00 for July, which Morosi thinks will damage Greinke’s trade value enough to keep the Brewers from getting back into the NL Central race seriously. Meaning GM Neil Huntington should be thinking of moving boldly—perhaps luring a deal for talented but disgruntled Arizona outfielder Justin Upton, who’d give McCutchen a little more lineup protection and the Pirate offence a little more firepower; and/or, luring a deal for a veteran starting pitcher (Wandy Rodriguez might be one candidate, Morosi suggests) or another veteran bat (Shane Victorino and Carlos Quentin are two names Morosi has in mind). The idea, says Morosi: moving for impact players would tell the Pirates and their long-parched fans that the team intends to play for the roses right away. The kicker: Will the Pirates be willing to part with a few prospects, given that they’ve tended to overrate most of them the last several years? Even if the Pirates don’t make it again, at least this time they’ll be seen as serious players for it.

TrumbotronMike Trout may be getting the ink, and Albert Pujols may be right behind him with his resurgence (after a horrid beginning in his new fatigues), but Mark Trumbo hasn’t exactly been staying out of the way, either. The Angels’ jack-of-all-trades leads the American League in slugging percentage (.634) and ties with Josh Hamilton (Texas) for OPS (on-base plus slugging) with his .995, and no matter where manager Mike Scioscia plays him—first base, third base, around the outfield—the kid produces. Without undermining what Trout and Pujols mean, be advised that since 26 April Trumbo has started every Angels game but two . . . and the Angels are 42-29 since, the second-best spread in the Show in that time frame. Pretty damn impressive for a guy who was first seen as a hot pitching prospect until Angel scouts decided they liked him better as a hitter.

Odd Man Out?—Trout’s and Trumbo’s emergence may or may not leave Peter Bourjos the Angels’ odd man out, even if he isn’t exactly worrying about it. Bourjos was bumped to one side as a starter when half the Angels’ Terrible Ts (Trout) showed what he was made of, and the swift defender has been dogged by trade rumours ever since he was an Angel prospect offered up in talks when the team made a play for Roy Halladay in 2009. “This is the most relaxed I’ve ever been at the trade deadline because I’ve been through it so many times,” he told the Los Angeles Times this week. “Whatever happens, happens. If I’m traded, I’ll go to a team that wants me, that needs me. But hopefully, I can play my whole career here.” He may not get that hope, though, if he ends up going in any package the Angels might put together, successfully, for the like of Philadelphia’s Cole Hamels.

Rivals—If the Angels have Hamels on their radar, they’d better keep a wary eye on their number one nemesis in the AL West: the Texas Rangers are said to have longing eyes for Hamels and two other arms, Greinke and one-time Ranger Cliff Lee, he who chose Philadelphia over Texas after he was landed near the 2010 non-waiver deadline and helped pitch the Rangers to the World Series. CBS Sports reports the Rangers hungry for a bona-fide number one starter and, if they can’t bag either Hamels (assuming the struggling, injury-plagued Phillies think they can’t re-sign him before his free agency, which might be one indicator that they’ve surrendered the season) or Greinke, they’d take another flyer on Lee (whose availability would be another sign the Phillies are looking past this year). One kicker that might make a difference: Lee is owed $25 million for each of 2013, 2014, and 2015, with a 2016 buyout worth $12.5 million.

Upchuck—That’s what former Seattle star Jay Buhner says he’d do if the Mariners sign still-valuable but still-fading Ichiro Suzuki to a three-year deal ($35-40 million is the figure tossed around most often) after his current contract (five years, $90 million) expires at season’s end. Buhner told Seattle ESPN radio the Mariners need to turn around more than they need to spend that kind of money on one player, even a player as popular as Ichiro remains—despite his batting average falling to .260 (through this writing), his unlikelihood of reaching 200+ hits for a second straight season, and his likelihood of missing 30 stolen bases for just the second time in his Show career.

Do or Die Time?—The Mets haven’t looked as good since the All-Star break as they looked going into the break: they’re on a six-game losing streak (including a loss going into the break) after dropping two straight to the Washington Nationals this week. They hope R.A. Dickey, who had a shaky outing after the break, gets back on his so-far track and salvages the final game Thursday before the Mets come home for rounds with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Nats again, followed by a western road trip with stops in Arizona, San Francisco, and San Diego. In other words, including Thursday, they have fifteen straight games against teams in third place or better in their divisions, and playing out of their division with a sub-.500 road record to date means they’ll have to help themselves best. The problem for the Mets since the break: their none-too-steady bullpen has done the lion’s share of killing them whenever the Mets manage to make noise midway or late in games. It went from bad to worse when Pedro Beato (who may yet be their setup man of the future, but was in after the rest of the pen couldn’t stave off the Nats in regulation) wild-pitched the winning run home with the bases loaded in the tenth Tuesday, and the Mets couldn’t follow through after a pair of ninth-inning bombs by David Wright and Lucas Duda to pull back to within a run, with Tyler Clippard—who yielded the bombs—striking out Jordany Valdespin to nail it for the Nats.