Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Felix pitches, Ackley homers, Ichiro hits

I wasn't planning to watch the M's open their season at 3:00 AM this morning.  However I am a bit of an insomniac, and even though I didn't make it to bed until almost 11:00 Tuesday because of deadline, I knew it was a possibility I'd be awake while the M's and A's flailed away at each other in the Tokyo Dome.  When our 16 year old crybaby cat Daphne came squalling into our bedroom, melatonin or no melatonin, I figured I'd go out and turn on the game. 

I was hoping to doze a bit through the rough and tumble, but no such luck.  I turned the game on as the game headed to bottom of the fourth, the M's up by a run.  Unfortunately that didn't last long, as my eyes focused just in time to see Kurt Suzuki rocket a double off Felix and drive in Cliff Pennington.  Score tied 1-1.  Fortunately the M's came back to win it, but it took 11 innings and a lot of very good pitching by Hernandez, Tom Wilhelmson and Brandon League to keep the A's away from further damage.  M's win 3-1. 

This had an eerily familiar feeling.  The M's had nine hits.  Of those four were by Ichiro, who looked like 2011 whas simply a blip on the radar.  Two tradmark Ichiro infield hits, but two nice line drives up the middle too.  Ackley had a couple of hits, including a fourth inning homer (maybe earlier, but it was before my moments of wakefulness.)  Not a lot of encouraging news on the hitting front as the middle third of the lineup-Smoak, Montero, and Carp-were a collective 0-17. 

On a more positive note, the M's are currently the winningest team in baseball.  Dustin Ackley is on a pace to hit 162 home runs.  Ichiro is firmly thrusting out his middle finger to all the Ichiro haters and is on a pace for 628 hits. Take that.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Why I can be patient

Mariners spring training hasn't gone too far down the road yet.  It's hard to tell how the team will shape up out of the gate.  But with the season opening in Japan on the 28th, we won't have long to wait and find out.

There's a lot of talk in the blogosphere about how this team will play this year.  What will the strengths of the M's be, what are its weaknesses?  And then there are those who only care about wins and championships; they will be disappointed.  There are those who feel the team should have been more active on the free agent market this year.  I don't disagree, but the Mariners did not need to make a big move on Pujols or Fielder, trapping this team in contracts they'll only regret later.  I know the word on the street is the big TV deals coming down the road in the next few years would solve all that.  But I believe the most important thing the M's can do is to find out what they have, rather than block their talented youngsters with expensive free agents. 

The Mariners have so many question marks, it's difficult to say how well they'll do.  I predict they'll win more than the 67 games they won last year.  I don't think they'll do a lot better than that, maybe 75 wins, but if things come together for some of the younger players and Ichiro and Figgins have better seasons they might be a .500 team.  I don't think that will happen, but I'd take it.
Jack Zdurencik with Rick Rizzs at FanFest.  This is a critical year for Jack Z:  will his team begin to show signs of maturity and development?
This is an important year for the M's.  Not because I expect them to win, but because we'll have a better picture of the team Jack Zdurencik is building and whether what his ability as a talent evaluator is justified or just hype.  In my view, Jack has a solid record of gathering talent to the team, on paper, but so far just a mixed record of getting talent between the lines at Safeco Field.  This is a pivotal year for the team, in that the talent that began arriving last year must begin to show it can win.

Here's my take on the team:
Ichiro's done nothing but hit the ball this spring.  Will it be good enough to be an effective number three hitter?
What do you do about Ichiro?-Ichiro is one of several veterans on this team that will very much shape the season.  Eric Wedge handed third place in the batting order to Ichiro, and coming off his worst major league season, and at age 38, one has to wonder whether Wedge is just whistling past the graveyard.  Ichiro's offensive production was down in every category with a .272/.310/.345 slash line and OPS at .645, 150 points below his career average.  His fielding also suffered.  It's hard to imagine at Ichiro's age that  he's going to reach his career averages of .326/.370/.421.  It's also difficult to imagine that the same ol' Ichiro would be an effective 3rd place hitter.  Dink 'em here, slap 'em there and run like the dickens might work leading off, but a third place hitter has to drive runners in.  If Ichiro hit .280 with forty doubles and 12-15 home runs, and walked a bit more it might be considered a success.  He's never done that.  34 doubles is his career high and he's hit homers in double figures twice.  Third is the most important place in the batting order.  Wedge is hitting Ichiro here because there's really nobody else. Ichiro is the biggest question mark on this team for this year.  His success or lack of it will determine his future with M's in this his walk year.
Do we care if Chone Figgins has a bunch of gloves to use in various spots if he still only hits .190?  That's been his spring so far.
Should Cone Figgins have any role on the Mariners?-First let me stand up and raise my hand and say forthrightly that I believed the signing of Chone Figgins was inspired when it was announced.  Two years later, I have hope, but very little, that Figgins will somehow help this team. It's difficult to understand how a guy that was so valuable to the Angels, could so utterly fall off a cliff.  From a player who received MVP votes in four seasons, became arguably the worst player in baseball last year.  Wedge has him penciled in batting first and playing a lot of third, and all over the field.  He hasn't exactly been a standout at the plate down in Arizona, but maybe Chone's fairy godmother will step into the batter's box with him and make him productive.  I can't even bother to cross my fingers for this one. No, if Figgins can't show he can be a useful hitter for the M's in spring or even by the end of April, it will be time to cut their ties and give on of the youngsters a shot.
We all know Saunders make the plays in the outfield.  To paraphrase the Natural: "There seems to be something wrong with Saunders; he's hitting the ball."
Michael Saunders savior? I'll say it right here-I like Michael Saunders.  He's the kind of player the M's should be searching for.  According to reports, the lefty outfielder has been driving the ball to right, but more importantly he's gone to the opposite field with power.  It's only spring training, but with Franklin Gutierrez out for at least the first month, Saunders will have the opportunity to show what he's got during the regular season.  Yes, you may be tired of hearing about the trials and tribulations of the Condor, but the M's will be a lot better if Saunders shows he is a productive hitter.

Bullpen blues--I'm really hoping the starting pitchers can go late into games, because so far I'm pretty unimpressed with the bullpen. The Mariners stockpiled bullpen arms during the off-season: Shawn Camp, Hong Chi-Kuo, George Sherill and a host of others.  Unfortunately most have not had strong springs.  While Brandon League, Shawn Kelley, and Tom Wilhelmson might be guys who can be counted on, the rest of the spots look kind of thin.  Help.
Catricala is greeted by import Munenori Kawasaki after clubbing a home run.  Catricala and Kawasaki have both opened eyes with their hitting.
Vinnie who?  Vinnie Catricala is one example of things that are right in the Mariners' farm system.  From being a virtual wasteland a year ago, third base is brimming with competition.  Figgins, Kyle Seager, Alex Liddi, Francisco Martinez, and Catricala are all guys who may assert their hold on this important position.  Catricala has shown he can hit at high A and AA ball, and he's had a great spring.  Great doubles power and right handed pop, if Catricala can show he has the defensive chops, he may show Chone Figgins the door.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Five things more funny than Rush Limbaugh's satire

I caught Anderson Cooper on CNN last night and the debate over Rush Limbaugh's disgusting comments about Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke who was denied the ability to speak at Darryl Issa's all male House committee on Obama's expansion of the requirement to provide contraception coverage in health insurance.

While panelist  and former Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer quickly changed the subject to terrible deeds done by liberal writers, he did acknowledge that Limbaugh's portrayal of  Fluke was insulting, and he shouldn't have done it. Conservative advisor Mary Matalin, however had a different take as she pimped the satiric nature of Rush's radio show:
 Nothing is more effective than political humor and political satire and nobody does it better than Rush."
Perhaps I'm simply comedy impaired, but I rarely find referring to a young, articulate law student, passionate about a serious issue as a slut, or a prostitute, or demanding to view her in a sex act as satirical.  Satire proceeds from humor and I'm not seeing it here or whenever Limbaugh engages in hate speech against women (or the President or any other group he has political disagreements with.)

I'm convinced Mary and Rush just don't understand what humor is, though you think she'd get it because she's been married to Carville long enough and he's always laughing at something.  So I'm going to help by offering five things more funny than Rush's satire in the hope they'll stumble across this entry and perhaps figure it out.
Colbert and Stewart at 2010's Rally for Sanity/Fear on the National Mall

1.  Let's start with the obvious.  John Stewart and Stephen Colbert are satirists and way more funny than Rush Limbaugh.  Yes, their politics tend to show up as way more to the left than Rush, but that doesn't stop them from skewering those whose political persuasion they share.  In the end, both men want an end to the unseemly marriage between money and power in American politics and they are just as happy to pillory Nancy Pelosi as John Boehner.  

2.  I confess, I'm old, and I haven't stayed up to watch Saturday Night Live in years and years.  SNL has been famous for political humor  from Dan Ackroyd's portrayal of Jimmy Carter to Fred Armisen's efforts to be Barack Obama.  They took on advertisers and politicians of all stripes and even the media as they spoofed the 70's Sixty Minutes segment called point counterpoint.  Here are Jane Curtain and Dan Ackroyd talking nuclear power in the Shana Wallace and James J. Kilpatrick roles.  This is satire and this is funny.  Mary and Rush are you taking notes?
As bad as it looks, or just too unintentionally funny to ignore. 

3.  Plan Nine from Outer Space is one of my least favorite movies of all time.  An Ed Wood movie, it's a bizarre mix of alien invasion, zombie resurrection and murder mystery.  Plan Nine was Bela Lugosi's last film, and he died in the middle of making it.  No matter, Bela's in the first half of the film while the guy who replaced him, but looks nothing like him, takes over in the second half.  Most people find Plan Nine unintentionally hilarious, despite being rated as the worst movie of all time, but I find the script ridiculously wordy and convoluted, and it gives me headache.  However, nobody calls a young student a slut or a prostitute, so I'm willing to revisit this unintentional masterpiece and laugh the night away. 

No not taken in my own bathroom, but an all too familiar situation
4.  Yes, this is an empty toilet paper roll.  If you've been married as long as I have, you too will have experienced those moments when you've sat down to take care of your business and upon completing your task realized there is no toilet paper.  Why?  Because somebody, a beloved spouse or family member has thoughtlessly not replaced it.  What's wrong with them?  The humor is in the visions going through our minds as we plan their demise, or perhaps the image of ourselves running down the hall holding up our unbelted, unbuttoned pants searching out a fresh roll.  Why is it we never check the roll status before we are unalterably engaged in our um, more vulnerable activities?  32 years, you'd think I'd learned.  While tragic, definitely more funny than Rush Limbaugh.
Kim Jong Il-A legend in his own mind.
5.  Last but not least are two men that would be unintentionally hilarious, if they weren't so damned scary: Kim Jong Il and Newt Gingrich.  Yes, it's not fair to make fun of dead North Korean dictators but Kim was such a wack job it's hard not to recount some of his views and actions and laugh.  While Kim was busy starving his people he was the world's largest importer of Hennessy brandy, he portrayed himself as the inventor of the hamburger, and claimed he was the best natural golfer in the world.  Check out his familiar  khaki tunic which he claimed made him an international trendsetter.  Bombast?  Arrogance?  Hyperbole?  Who knows.  He's dead.  But the good news is somebody with sense now seems to be in charge with announcement that North Korea is interested in dismantling their nuclear program.
Newt waxing expansively about moonbases, the president's treason, or about what Callista made for dinner. 
You'd think that Kim and Newt would have little in common, but take a closer look here.  Hyperbole, thy name is Gingrich.  Whether excoriating Mitt Romney or President Obama, or tooting his own accomplishments, nobody can tell a whopper like Newt.  My favorites are famous-President Obama's alleged "Kenyan anti-colonial behavior," or that he is "the most dangerous president in American history."  Oh, tell us how you really feel Newt.  Always willing to tout his own accomplishments as speaker, Newt always leaves out the part about how he is also responsible for the current permanent partisan warfare we find ourselves in, and that in 1998 his failure to oust Bill Clinton from office led to a loss of seats in the House and the subsequent revolt in his party led to his exit as Speaker.    Newt always reminds me of a combination of former House speaker Sam Rayburn, boxer Muhammed Ali, and science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke: someone with vision and a big mouth, but with a lot fewer accomplishments.  Newt's hilarious.  A hypocrite and a failure, but hilarious.

So Mary and Rush, these are five things that are much funnier than calling Sandra Fluke a slut and a prostitute.  There are many other items I left off the list-cholera outbreaks, some Adam Sandler movies, and the rapid exit of your sponsors.  But this was just a brainstorming session.