Thursday, June 28, 2012

Why the M's must win soon

When Lorri said it was okay I jumped at the chance to catch a ball game at Camden Yards. I'd heard so much about it. Amazingly, it lives up to its billing. About a thirty minute walk from our hotel, there seemed to be a nice walk up crowd.

A bad sign however, was that I got to the park about 30 minutes before game time. They were still passing out loads of t-shirts to the first 10,000 adults. Looked like they had plenty left.

You can see from the photo, taken at the first pitch that there's nobody here.

Why? Camden Yards is a beautiful park. Once inside there is the feeling of carnival inside. Boog Powell's smoke house (and I'd swear it was the Boog himself taking money) the statue of Frank Robinson made it all so legit. It's the only ballpark I've been to that rivals Safeco Field.

Second inning, no score. There are five ex-Mariners on the field tonight. The Indians must have alumni meetings with Shin Soo-Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jack Hannahan, and Jose Lopez starting. For the O's it's just Adam Jones (who just pursued a ball to the center field wall. Unfortunately he wasn't tall enough, 3-0 Indians)

So, why doesn't this team draw flies? They are having a winning season after years of stinky. You'd think that counts for something. But clearly casual fans are looking for more.

The M's seem to be in a similar spiral. Three years since the last winning season, eleven years since their last playoff appearance. Read the blogs. Casual M's fan support is at early 90's levels. This was supposed to be a year of incremental progress, with a big step forward in 2013. I don't see it on the field, though I am more hopeful with the young guys in Tacoma and Jackson. But only winning makes believers. Just ask my 14,000 friends at Camden Yards tonight.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Driving in hell

Driving in new cities is always a challenge. The street layout provides no frame of reference. The landmarks are unfamiliar. North never seems to be where it's supposed to be. In-city driving is especially hard

That said, Baltimore is ridiculous. Like other cities, the streets are crowded. Downtown Baltimore seems to be wall to wall traffic. But wait, so are downtown Seattle and Los Angeles. Here, however there are two complications. First there are some of the local drivers. Driven mad by prolonged confinement in their vehicles, they exploit any tiny gap in traffic to cross three lanes to turn on to the one way street they seek. I also tried to play this game but simply did not possess enough of the suicidal impulses required to be very successful and merely missed my turns.

The other incredibly maddening characteristic of Baltimore driving are the pedestrian death squads. You would know them as jay-walkers. In friendly Seattle we would see these occasionally crossing against the light at a run or at least when it's safe. Perhaps you've even participated once or twice yourself. In Baltimore it's serious shit. Cross against the light, mid-street, through (hopefully) stopped traffic. B-town jaywalkers come in all shapes and sizes, colors and age groups. They're in great need of checking their med levels.

I've not determined the purpose of the crosswalks here, because nobody seems to use them. It all just contributes to the madness.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Flying coast to coast

We're leaving today for Baltimore, and I'm posting from the airport. A colossal line at security for 5:30 am. Going through security always makes me nervous no matter how many times I've flown. Maybe it's because I always feel I'm half undressing. Lorri got stuck in a line behind some foreign visitors carrying shampoo and other liquid in small barrels. I told her she should have stayed with me rather than hang with these folks that argued with every TSA employee they could find. Lucky it wasn't strip search a-go-go.

Time to board at last.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The no no

The Mariners used six pitchers to combine for a no-hitter against the Dodgers.  That's awesome, but the way they did it is what's incredible.  Kevin Millwood pitched six great innings before leaving after one practice pitch to open the seventh.  He's diagnosed with a slight groin injury, if such a thing exists. Charlie Furbush, Steven Pryor, Lucas Luetke, Brandon League, and Tom Wilhelmson closed it out for the win, the shutout and the clean slate.
Rookie catcher Jesus Montero celebrates with all six pitchers in their no hitter against the Dodgers.
It's a game in which the Mariners scored only one run.  Hopefully this isn't a return to the curse of Safeco, and it's simply a matter of hitting against a pretty good pitcher, Nathan Eovaldi, on a team they haven't played much.  Even so, they managed eight hits.

There were contributions galore tonight.  Offensively, Ichiro, perhaps showing signs of escaping recent struggles at the plate, managed three hits and scored the winning run.  Kyle Seager again had a two-out base hit to drive in Suzuki. Chone Figgins and Brendan Ryan made decisive defensive contributions. League looked like he might be ready to reclaim his closer status, if he can wrest it from Wilhelmson's greedy grasp.

Coming off a really unpleasant road trip against the division leading Rangers and White Sox, and the surging Angels, the team really rallied to put up some big numbers against some decent pitching staffs. Today, the pitching staff rallied in the face of some adversity to accomplish something really amazing. More and more these guys are starting to look like a team.  One that's learning to pull together and win. I can't wait to see what this team looks like at the end of July.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

It's Been Four Weeks

Monday May 7th was the night we lost Jack.  I don't mean to be maudlin or depressing, but honestly it's been a tough four weeks. Most days are good.  I'm busy, and that's my typical modus operandi.  Work consumes my thoughts and my time.  I try to paint figures at home, update my blogs, keep up with my e-mail and the Mariners, etc., etc.  But there are those moments, before sleep, or when I wake up in the morning, or when Lorri just wants to talk and we remember . . .  And that's when it's still hard. 

My wife handed me a very nice keepsake last night.  It's a little keychain with three stamped metal plates.  The largest one says "My Boy Jack."  She bought it for me to help me feel better.  It was a really nice thought, and the sentiment is really how I think of him.  I'm not sure it makes me feel better, but I really do appreciate the thought.

So, what now? We have another dog, Lucy, and I've never appreciated her as much as I do now. I cuddle my Lucy and bury my face in her fur, but it's not quite the same as my Jack.  Lucy is sweet and shy, except around food, and the house is quiet and strange. It once bubbled with action and sound, and we often complained  My red dog's ashes sit in a box, waiting for a plan.  Tonight is the last night of deadline until October, so I'm looking forward to putting some work into a special place under the big maple tree in the backyard for Jack's remains. My life feels as though I'm on hold.

We're trying to move on; we miss him so.  We worry about Lucy and know she is lonely.  We decided to welcome another dog into our family this summer to keep Lucy company and add one more generation of Aussies to our life.  We believe we'll be buying Amos, a beautiful red merle from Lucy's breeder in July.  We don't expect him to be Jack, but according to his breeder, the two boys have a lot in common-good and bad. 
Amos is two, though this is a puppy picture.
Until then, this will be the last post about my missing friend.  I just needed to say it.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Mariners: Some things to like

After 55 games, the Mariners have a +1 run differential and a Pythagorean won-loss record of 28-27.  What does it mean?  Not much.  I generally think Pythagorean won loss is stupid.  You've got to win the games on the field, not the stat boxes.  They've blown too many saves, played too poorly at home, haven't been consistent, don't walk enough, strike out too much, yada, yada, yada. 
Michael Saunders continues to right his career and give hope to the Mariners as his hitting improves.
Even so, there are things to like about the M's and it has to do with hitting.  That's the key thing that will make this team more competitive at this point in their rebuilding.  It's what's made them historically godawful the last few years, and if they don't improve Jack Zdurencik will simply be gone and the rebuilding will continue until I die. Not acceptable.

Here are some interesting numbers (before Sunday's game) according to
Ichiro Suzuki           .272/.303/389        OPS+ 98
Dustin Ackley         .248/.323/.369        OPS+ 99
Kyle Seager             .274/.313/.468       OPS+ 121
Jesus Montero          .254/.295/.422       OPS+ 103
Justin Smoak            .241/.289/.414       OPS+ 99
Michael Saunders     .256/.325/.422       OPS+113
Justin Smoak administers the coup de grace with his second three run homer in the 21-8 thrashing of Texas.  Is it for real?  The Mariners have reason for hope.
These are six of the Mariners regular players.  For those not in the know, OPS+ is a measure that compares a players OPS (on base percentage + slugging percentage) to the league average.  100 is league average.  These six players are either very close to league average or exceed league average in hitting. Last year, only Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley and Mike Carp finished the year above league average, with only Seager above 90.  Saunders was an abysmal 26.

Look at those stats.  What is one that stands out?  Low on base percentage.  The Mariners are 29th in OBP according to ESPN only ahead of AL West rival Oakland.  League average OBP is .320.  The Mariners as a team get on base at .296.  Why is that?  Looking at these batting averages you don't see many numbers that would remind you of Ty Cobb or even Ichiro in his prime.  Yet, the league batting average is only .253 in the American League. That's a number that's consistently decreased each year since it's high water mark of .276 in 2000.  The batting averages are improving to league average and beyond, but selectivity at the plate is not. Two problems the Mariners face are not enough walks and too many strikeouts.  The M's will score more consistently when those issues are reversed.

In other ways the Mariners are an improving group since the beginning of the year.  Smoak seems to have settled into a groove--for the time being.  We've seen this before, but right now things are going along smoothly and his numbers should improve.  Ichiro returned to the lead-off spot-where he belonged-and his average is about what it was last year, but his OPS+ numbers are better by 15 pts. Ackley's progress seems to have stalled, but Saunders and Seager are further along.  Montero is okay for year 1.

Then there are these numbers:
Miguel Olivo       .200/.216/.322       OPS+ 51
Chone Figgins      .188/.258/.295      OPS+ 58
Mike Carp            .176/.273/.382      OPS+ 80
John Jaso              .250/.340/.450      OPS+ 125
Brendan Ryan       .176/.274/.286      OPS+ 59

Clearly there are Mariners who continue to struggle at the plate.  The big question is will they improve as the season goes along OR do they bring something else to the table, such as outstanding defense that justifies their playing time.  In the case of Brendan Ryan, absolutely.  The Fielders Bible III ranks him as clearly the best defensive shortstop in the game since 2009.  Not close. Miguel Olivo, on the other hand, was ranked one of the worst defensive catchers in the American League last year .  Chone Figgins is playing out of position and is not a very good left fielder.  Carp had a lousy spring, hurt himself, and is trying to catch up.  The Mariners are hoping he's not the next Bryan LaHair. John Jaso has earned his playing time with his bat, though apparently, as catchers go, he's a very good hitter.

Brendan Ryan doesn't hit much (at all) but his shortstop defense ranks best in baseball according to John Dewan's Hitters Bible III
The question becomes, what to do about the guys who aren't hitting?  The M's have already answered some of that by sending down Casper Wells (.213/.262/.302 OPS+ 90) and splitting left field between Carp, Figgins and Alex Liddi.  But this was really about Figgins' contract.  Wells was beginning to hit a little and was a much better defensive outfielder than any of the three. Wedge clearly prefers that Olivo catch more despite his offensive and defensive shortcomings, with Montero and Jaso mostly DHing.

Regardless, the guys we consider the core of the rebuilding, are showing signs of life.  That doesn't mean they are all going to squirt up a line graph in uniform rapidity, or that the team will play consistently well, but the hitting issues that plagued this team the last several years are diminished.