Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Yawn: trade deadline passes. Rotation survives.

I share Jeter's excitement for the lack of trade deadline moves by the Mariners.  Of course, I think that's a good thing.
According to the clock on my computer, the MLB trade deadline is passed and the Mariners did nothing today. I know for many out there, this is a disappointment.  However, given what the M's had to deal-starting pitching and and top 50 MLB prospects-I'm relieved.  It's not that the M's are good, or that any facet of their of their game doesn't need improvement.  However, the prospects of sending Jason Vargas and Kevin Millwood to some other team's building project, getting some mid to high level prospects in return (but no blue-chippers) and consigning Mariners fans to another August and September in purgatory is just more than I can stomach.Those guys are worth way more to this year's version of the Mariners than anything they'd get in return.

I've waved good-bye to Brandon League and Steve Delabar.  League netted a couple of those mid-level prospects from the Dodgers.  I'd like to think this is a big deal, but it's not.   Neither outfielder Leon Landry or reliever Logan Bawcom are projected to be much.  Of course League hasn't been much either.  Delabar is a great story for Seattle, with him coming back to pitch after a serious injury, summoned to training camp from his substitute teaching gig.  Unfortunately, he's just not a very good pitcher right now.  Picking up Eric Thames from the Blue Jays was a good swap.  No,Thames isn't a transforming bat, but he's a guy they might platoon with Casper Wells.  We'll see.
Iwakuma's game on Monday night was a legit gem.  He set the rookie record for 13 strikeouts in a game.
Hat's off, and mumbled apologies to Hisashi Iwakuma.  He pitched a no-doubt-about-it gem last night.  It was great to see him go eight innings.  Better still to see him make the Blue Jays look foolish. He adds new legitimacy to the M's rotation IF this is not a once only kind of game.

Ha!  The M's won five straight. At home. In Safeco Field. Yes, I know all about it.  They've just played the Royals and Blue Jays, but screw it.  Five consecutive wins is more than they've pulled off all year.  No question the Royals are coming to define the term suckage and extending it over generations.  But they still hit pretty well, and they didn't do much of that until Sunday's game. I'm hoping this will continue.  The M's are beginning to show they can hit bad pitching at Safeco.  Just ask Ricky Romero.  They haven't shown they can do that against good pitching. See Ivan Nova.

Lorri and I attended the Mariners Hall of Fame game on Saturday.  It was a classy ceremony for Randy Johnson and Dan Wilson.  This is the second such game I've been to.  I saw Edgar Martinez inducted in 2007.  The M's do these things well.  Now if only they could develop a winning baseball team. The game was good too.  Tight and hard fought, but the Royals made a few too many mistakes.
It's great to see Oliver Perez reinvent himself as a lefty reliever.
Last but not least, I've had a chance to watch Oliver Perez pitch several times on television and in person Saturday.  It's great to see him do the hard work to resurrect a career that for all intents and purposes was dead, dead, dead.  I've always admired other teams that could bring in a lefty throwing high heat from a bajillion different arm angles.  It wasn't a freebie; Perez really struggled for a while in Tacoma.  But I'm glad he's able to help the M's pen.  Even if he kind of blew up on Sunday.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Face the Facts

I make a habit of watching the Sunday morning talks shows.  I like to call them the Sabbath Gasbags, mostly because that's what Calvin Trillen, noted curmudgeon calls them, and honestly, like Trillen, I believe their opinions are no more valid than my own.  So once a week, I take pleasure in shouting back at windy dopes like George Will, Jeff Sessions and Ramesh Ponnuru. Newt Gingrich or Michele Bachman are a very special Sunday morning treat, something like Baked Alaska, special dessert one doesn't get often, but relish the experience when you do.

My favorite Sunday show is Reliable Sources on CNN.  It's unusual because it is a critique of the media.  As a high school media adviser, it's interesting to see how the media views the way it is covering the news.  The host is Howard Kurtz of Newsweek and the Daily Beast, and I agree with what he has to say about 85% of the time. Because the show is focused on the media, it often is able to avoid a lot of the ideological battles in politics, although that sometimes makes its way into the discussion.  Further, the discussion is usually among two or more media figures, rather than the usual crowd of political talking heads, so the perspectives are somewhat different.  Kurtz is an effective moderator, though occasionally he can be heavy-handed.

Yesterday, after viewing the media coverage of Mitt Romney's foreign trip, coverage of the Aurora shootings, and the NBC news department's relationship to the Olympic broadcasts, Kurtz welcomed a discussion with Frank Sesno.  You may remember Sesno.  He was the national desk editor at CNN for many years and is now the Director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University.  He went on the Kurtz show to promote his new project, Face the Facts.  It's described as a:
new nonpartisan, multi-platform content hub and civic engagement initiative dedicated to elevating the tone of national debate with provocative facts found at facethefactsusa.org.
The website pledges to produce facts from primary sources only that present the reader information about important issues facing the nation every day from now until the elections in November.  In addition, there are links to views of this problem from at least two sides of the political spectrum.  There are 100 days until the election and the site pledges a new fact each day until then.

The site opened this morning with a look at the rate of increase of the deficit.  Included is a short video, with links to an Ezra Klein column from Bloomberg, articles from the Heritage Foundation, and the Concord Coalition among others. The fact comes from the Office of Management and Budget and shows a spreadsheet using their figures. 

If you like to know the facts, wish to be an informed voter or debater of the issues, this could be the site for you.   You may not always be comfortable with the facts, but at least they're there for you to see.  It's a great way to spend 15 minutes in your morning.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Now is not the time to trade Jason Vargas . . .

This was supposed to be the year of the light at the end of the tunnel.  This was the year the young players were supposed to hit and the young pitchers were to emerge from the minor league womb. In battle, it is said, your best plan never survives the first 90 seconds of contact with the enemy.  And so it's been with the Seattle Mariners.  The young hitters struggle, but everybody with a keyboard has chronicled this situation ad nauseum.  The young pitchers have developed in the minors just as slowly and hardly in a straight line. The battle plan for for 2012 is as irrelevant today as Mitt Romney's position on anything during his gubernatorial campaign in 2002.

The Big Three +1 that began the season in Jackson all hit a variety of potholes on the road to Seattle. Andrew Carraway was the first to reach Tacoma from Jackson, and is now on the disabled list.  Danny Hultzen is also in Tacoma, but is struggling with his control.  Taijuan Walker's glorious May turned into a disastrous June, but his game seems to have turned around.  James Paxton spent six weeks on the disabled list.  None are close to being big-league ready.  Not to be negative, but it's not certain any of them will ever be big league ready,and certainly not this season.  Like Michael Saunders and Dustin Ackley, they're young and inexperienced, and these things take time to sort out.
Vargas throws an average fastball, and counts on a nasty change-up for his out pitch
A great example of this is Jason Vargas.  Vargas came to Seattle as part of the huge J.J. Putz swap in Jack Zdurencik's first season that also netted Franklin Guttierez and Mike Carp among others. Vargas arrived as a lefty with a lot of question marks. Though he isn't in the same category as Felix Hernandez or Roy Halladay, since his arrival in 2009 he's pitched well enough to pile up an increasing number of innings each year:
2012-146.0 to date.

Vargas is not a brilliant pitcher.  In only one of those seasons did he have an ERA+ of greater than 100, which is league average.  This year he is at 99.  His game is made for the vastness of Safeco Field, and he has pretty extreme home and road splits.  What he has done is be somebody Eric Wedge can run out there every fifth day and count on getting a decent start.  Vargas tends to be a fly ball pitcher, and is very prone to coughing up home runs.  But his numbers his last six starts are really good.  Take away the great home run massacre in Arizona on June 20th, when he gave up five in four and a third innings, and Vargas would be over 100 in ERA+.  His last six games were stellar, with three outings of at least eight innings pitched, four wins and no losses.
This year, he's added an effective cutter to his repertoire.  Despite a rough patch in June, Vargas leads them with 11 wins, and has pitched extremely well of late.
Jason Vargas is a name that's being mentioned prominently in trade rumors as we near the deadline along with Mariner reliever Brandon League.  We're just beginning to see what Vargas can really do.  Yet, here is the Mariner rotation with Felix, Vargas and a lot of uncertainty.  Blake Beaven has had a couple of nice starts, but he's young and it's not certain that can continue.  Kevin Millwood continues to muddle through the season.  He hasn't been supported with many runs, but he also seems to able to pitch just well enough to lose.  Hisashi Iwakuma hasn't shown he can provide more than five innings of constant trouble.

Trading Vargas now is a problem for this team.  They've put together a decent stretch against the Royals and Rays, while struggling to score against the Yankees. They're heading into the end of July with a winning record for the month, and while they are clearly out of anything resembling a meaningful pennant race, they are trying to be more respectable and offer their diminishing fan base some hope.  Last year the M's traded off Eric Bedard and Doug Fister for pieces and the team, which had endured the 17 game losing streak, collapsed going 22-33 to finish the season. Larry Stone at the Seattle Times wrote a great article about the impact of trading Vargas and Millwood on this team and the readiness of other pitchers to step in and fill their roles on the staff. Geoff Baker wrote about the financial impact of keeping Vargas on the team.  As Vargas continues to develop, he's 29, he becomes more valuable, or costly, probably worth $7 million next year or more if he continues to improve on his team leading 11 wins.

There are two reasons in favor of trading Vargas.  First, the Mariners are not currently able to compete for the playoffs.  They are likely two or more seasons away from competing and trading Vargas will bring pieces that will make them more competitive later. They might provide a current upgrade (unlikely, because any team that trades for him isn't likely to trade away the bits that got them in the playoff hunt in the first place,) or prospects.  We know about prospects.  We've got lots of them.  Some of them have panned out reasonably well, like Casper Wells and Charlie Furbush.  Some are still question marks, like Blake Beaven, Francisco Martinez and Justin Smoak.  Others were shoveled out with the elephant dung after the circus like Luke French and Mauricio Robles.  The point is, that a Vargas trade may help, but it will be down the road.

The second reason for trading Vargas is that he'll cost too much money.  Felix will make just north of $20 million next year, and if Vargas hits the jackpot in arbitration he may make as much as $10 million.  That's $30 million for two players in a budget that's likely to be about $80 million.  Toss in Chone Figgins' misspent $9 millions and that's three guys eating up half your budget.  Not the way this team should be going.  Everybody else is still pretty young and don't cost much at this point. The argument is that Felix and Figgins are locked in, the money is spent, and the M's can't afford to keep Vargas, pay the youngsters and have money to put into some veteran free agents that can carry more of the offensive load load next year.

As a loyal fan, committed to this team win or lose, trading Vargas is not the move to make for this team.  If Major League Baseball is an economic enterprise first, this team and every other team requires, even in this age of big television contracts, the MLB network, MLB.com, and MLB at Bat, a fan base.  The M's fan base has shrunk and withered to a diminished, dessicated, dehydrated shadow of its 2002 high.  We are gasping for wins, and peering into the mists of the future searching for optimism, or at least some warm bats.  Yes, periodically, Vargas will get lit up--in really spectacular fashion, kind of like an ammunition dump exploding.  But, he is an anchor on this pitching staff, a guy who usually gives his team a chance to win when he goes out there.  And-get this-HE WANTS TO STAY IN SEATTLE!! In the end, even Ichiro bailed. Enough is enough.

While this team waits, and hopes, and drafts, and teaches and trims its budget, and struggles to win in the hope for future competition, the fans endure. Some don't endure. They stop caring.  The M's are about to be chased from the sports page by the London Olympics and the opening of Seahawks camp.  They are a sporting irrelevance for most sports fans and its only July 28th.  The further disintegration of this team that would follow a Vargas trade, will only make it that much harder for diehards to attend games at Safeco, or tune in to ROOTS sports every night.  My message to the M's: increase your budget, sign Vargas to a multi-year deal at a somewhat lower yearly cost than arbitration, do what you need to do but stop the exodus of big-league pitching from this city.  Support your shrinking fan base and don't trade Jason Vargas.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Now Let's Get Things on the Right Track

Ichiro acknowledges the crowd at last night's Mariners game.  It was class all the way.

 I watched last night's game, mostly in sadness.  There was something special about seeing number 51 in right field all these years.  It was predictable and for many years Ichiro was special.  I think the crowd understood that too, and the 29K+ thankfully gave him his standing O in appreciation of his accomplishments in Seattle.  It's especially hard to see him go to the Yankees, whom I've always hated, but as I said last night, I'll always wish him the best.

After 18 or so hours to reflect, I generally stand by my comments of yesterday.  This trade is a boon to Ichiro, and it gets the Mariners out of a difficult spot.  It means the M's can fill Ichiro's spot on the roster with younger players that are more a part of their future, and Ichiro can finish out the year, and possibly his career, with a winner. 

The Yanks are going to the playoffs, and possibly the World Series.  The team is full of 30something veterans who know how to win.  Ichiro can be the complimentary piece he should have been in Seattle: a guy who can get on base, run a little, and play great defense--not a guy who's supposed to carry the team. Despite his talents and salary, because of his language and style of play, due to his deliberate reticence and strangeness, Ichiro could never be the leader his teammates needed and the public demanded.

For the M's, there is no question Ichiro is safely in their rear view mirror, and when the Yankees leave town on Wednesday, he will be in the past, with Junior, A-Rod, and the Big Unit: guys who were here but left for greener pastures.  They don't have to answer the question-do we re-sign him or not. Whatever plans Ichiro has probably don't include the M's.  In the mid- to long-term, this deal makes a lot of sense.

In the shorter term, however, things don't look any rosier for the Mariners. The young guys continue to struggle.  There are a few players that look like they may be serviceable.  Michael Saunders has held his own.  Casper Wells looks like decent player at right or left.  Jesus Montero seems to be figuring it out. The pitchers look like they've figured out Kyle Seager, but he's not going quietly.  John Jaso is a probably the best hitter on the team, and he needs a bigger role.  I don't think much of Carlos Peguero with the bat or a glove, but obviously somebody else does. 
Justin Smoak goes to Tacoma to fix his swing.  Hopefully he's got a warranty.
Last night it was announced that Justin Smoak was being sent to Tacoma, and Mike Carp was being recalled.  It's about time.  It's not because I think Smoak should be locked away with key thrown away.  He just needs to work through his issues in AAA.  Ditto Dustin Ackley, but it doesn't look like he'll be heading south any time soon.  I don't have a lot of hope for Carp either, so this may be his last chance.  Love Brendan Ryan, but the man can't hit.  Don't love Chone Figgins, and the shark tank is waiting.
Kyle Seager leads the team with 58 RBI's, but recent struggles have me worried.
In the end this deal makes the team even less experienced, but if this year is really about starting over and stripping this Mariners down to basics, this was the right move.  It should also free up some cash so the M's should be real players in the free agent market. And they better be if they want to show the few fans left they're serious about winning.

Jeff Pasaran at Yahoo! Sports wrote the most moving account of yesterday's dugout swap.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Trading Ichiro

Today the Mariners announced they traded Ichiro Suzuki to the New York Yankees for two guys named Danny Farquhar and D.J. Mitchell.  They're both pitchers, really small pitchers.  Mitchell spent a short time with the big league club and Farquhar is 25 at AAA Wilkes-Barre. The M's will also receive cash. Club president Howard Lincoln announced Ichiro requested a trade several weeks ago.

I have mixed feelings about this.  In one sense I'm thrilled.  This was the right move.  The M's can go on with their rebuilding plans and put a youngster in right field.  Unfortunately, with Franklin Guttierrez injured they don't really have a youngster to take Ichiro's spot.  I am not a Carlos Peguero fan; he's a train wreck waiting to happen in the outfield. Figgins is a wasted spot in the batting order.  There really isn't anyone ready to play outfield at the major league level in Tacoma. Maybe this the first of a couple of deals that brings another young player to the eam.  The best part about this deal, however, is that it liberates general manager Jack Zdurencik from having to re-sign Ichiro.  Yes, Ichiro is free to play for a championship caliber club, but it also puts distance between any M's obligation and the end of his career. This may be one of the most important trades in club history because it allows the team to move on.
Ichiro's record breaking 258th hit in 2004.  His hit chase was the only show in town as the M's lost 99 games.

The most famous White Sox fan in America talks to Ichiro.
There are lots of Ichiro haters out there.  Just look at some of the comments in any of the Seattle Times comments sections regarding this trade.  Ichiro didn't go all out.  He was a selfish player.  He wasn't a team guy.  Some of this could be true.  Even so, I confess a fondness for him.  Ichiro could do things with a bat nobody else could.  He never drew a lot of walks, even in his prime, but he could always work an at-bat.  Eight, nine, ten pitch at bats weren't unusual. He'd foul off pitches in the dirt, a foot outside, anything to get that hit. Every once in a while he'd surprise us too.  I was at Safeco the only time the M's beat Pedro Martinez (who was like 9-1 against the M's, and the scores were humiliating.)  In that game was sitting in the left field bleachers when Ichiro hit a grand slam to put an exclamation point on things.  I cheered for him when he broke Sisler's record.  I cheered for him in 2008 when the M's spent a  $100 million and lost 101 games. The last couple of years have been tough as he's been in obvious decline, but I continued to cheer him on and hope for the best.  It was a little like watching Willie Mays as the end neared in '72.

I'll continue to wish Ichiro well.  His days as an every day player are likely over, and with that probably his quest for 3,000 hits will end too. I've never rooted for the Yankees before, but as the season wears on-or at least after Wednesday-I'm likely to follow them a little more closely.  For me Ichiro will probably be on a slightly shorter pedestal than Edgar, Buhner and Griffey, but certainly there with Dan Wilson and Jamie Moyer.  I'll look for him to be elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Mariners: Crushing Kansas City and the home and road splits

The M's took their weak hitting show on the road to Kansas City Monday and emerged like Clark Kent from a telephone booth.  11 hits and a bunch of walks on Monday led to nine runs, and 14 hits and a few more free passes Tuesday led to nine more runs.  Dingers! Triples! Doubles! Timely Bingles!  They were all there.  Michael Saunders homered.  Dustin Ackley homered. Casper Wells homered. Justin Smoak homered twice(!!??) 

Michael Saunders is congratulated after his mammoth homer to center in Tuesday night's game.
Should we be excited? The pitching was not the highest quality.  Jonathan Sanchez, the lefty slinger mauled Monday, pitched a crappy game in a long series of crappy games this season.  So crappy, in fact, the Royals DFA'ed him on Tuesday.  Tuesday's pitcher, Ryan Verdugo, an emergency AAA call up, got whacked around pretty good too.  Both Royals starters were gone by before the end of second inning.  Kansas City finds itself coming into tonight's game, the third in a four game series, with its bullpen dented and bruised. 

Last night during the game, Roots Sports posted a graphic that showed some breathtaking information.  The Mariners were leading all major league baseball in runs scored on the road.  The M's, with 92 games played have also played more games than all teams but the Phillies, Dodgers and Padres, with most other teams within a game or two.  They've also played 48 of those games on the road, which I suspect is more than most teams. That aside, after last night's game the M's have scored 238 runs on the road.  That's four more than the second place Angels. 

So what might their run total be in their 44 home games?  How about a grand total of 126.  That's about 53% of the runs scored away from Safeco Field. All other offensive statistics are likewise shriveled in Seattle.  The numbers of extra base hits home/road are as follows: 2B 53/90, 3B 3/13/, HR 22/56.  This is a team that has demonstrated it can score in other teams' ballparks, but scores the fewest runs in the majors at home.

It wasn't like the twin outbursts at Kaufman Stadium were at the Ballpark in Arlington either.  The K, as it's known at home, like Safeco Field, is known for its roomy outfields, and in its prime, attracted speedy outfielders like Willie Wilson and Amos Otis to run down drives in the gaps.  It is a toasty 95 degrees, so balls don't lose momentum in marine air.  All of this does give a new perspective on the fences at Safeco argument.

All statistics from Yahoo! Sports

Photo by Orlin Wagner, AP.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Tales of Amos and Lucy and some fun baseball stuff

It's been a week since Amos came home with us. Mostly it's been a week of learning.  Lorri and I are trying to learn what Amos needs and how best to provide it for him.  Amos is trying to learn . . . pretty much everything.  Imagine that your memory is very short, very, very short.  The only place, people and dog friends are ripped away from you.  You've been planted from a pretty rural space to suburbia.  You're stuck with a couple of 50something parents who talk too much and don't give very clear directions.
Amos has decided his safest place is under the computer desk.  Somebody is often there anyway, so it's probably not a bad choice.
Despite all this Amos is doing an amazing job of fitting in.  He started by being really afraid of almost everything. He didn't much care for leashes, cars, or backyard, all of which were going to be a problem.  He was uncertain about Lorri and me, and for the first few days we didn't know if we were going to get friendly, affectionate Amos or frightened, uncertain Amos.  He was not wild about getting ready for his morning walks, about going potty outside.  He ate his food, but didn't like any kind of chew toy. He had accidents in the house
The real Amos in all his glory.  He's really a sweet, beautiful dog and an important member of our family.

But Amos did endear himself to us by being generally obedient.  He liked his walks when the leash was finally on.  He came when we called him.  We loved the way Amos ate-violently, briefly, and totally-all the while seeking approval from mom and dad. Amos is a terribly affectionate boy, and loves to be pet and scratched, happily rolling over on his back to get love.  He sidles up very close to be near.  He smiles broadly with his mouth half open and his tongue eagerly exposed, a characteristic of his breed, when he is very happy.

After a few days at Chez Smyth, things began to break loose.  He was more comfortable outside.  He seemed less afraid and more confident.  He began to explore the house, which is pretty small, on his own, and especially loved the layout of the living space, which is circular.  Amos loves to circumnavigate the space, leaving through the kitchen and appearing through the bathroom, usually with his enthusiastic grin. Maybe we should change his name to Magellan. Amos likes to hang out under our computer space, but will accompany me to my den when I'm painting figures, rolls on the bed asking for a scratch when I'm getting ready to shower or dress, and loves to lay on the couch next to us if we're watching television.  He loves people. He's still not a denizen of the backyard, but knows when he needs to go, and does so willingly.  Amos herds me as I'm mowing the back lawn, running wide circles around me, puzzled by the monotonous back and forth.

But what about Lucy, you may be thinking?  They don't have a bad relationship, they just don't have much relationship at all. Lucy has always been about Lucy, and Amos is pretty much about Amos.  We hoped they'd play together a bit more, but Lucy has snapped at her new brother a few times which probably keeps him away.  They compete for attention, for treats.  Lucy is always anxious to assert her ownership of any chew toys, which Amos affably cedes to her. Today, however, was interesting.  I was working in the backyard, when Amos began barking.  Amos never barks. Well, almost never barks.  He did bark twice when I was chasing him around the yard once.  The neighbor girl was clearly visible near the back fence and he barked at her several times, setting off the Lucy bark.  Lucy doesn't bark frequently, but when she does start, she's like Cook County voters: does it early and often. An interesting and unusual case of cooperation.

All in all, we're still getting to know Amos and he's still trying to learn about us.  I think he fits right in. 

The article foretells the likely outcome of a pitcher throwing 90% of the speed of light.  Picture pilfered from the page Relativistic Baseball

Dave Schueler sent me this interesting link to a physics site.  He was complaining, as so many others are, about the Mariners, and thought this might liven up our baseball taste buds. The article is of the what if nature, and asks "What if a pitcher could pitch at 90% of the speed of light.  Whoa.  Interesting conclusions drawn, but really the fun is in the read.  My thoughts were, that this was very cool, but would be most effective during a Yankees-Red Sox series. It does give a whole new meaning to the name Nuke LaLoosh.
Let's just say it's a really bad day for those in the park, the surrounding neighborhood, and the city in general.  It makes placing a stadium in the downtown area seem like a bad idea.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The M's at halfway: Don't throw out the babies with the bathwater

 Did you ever get really frustrated following your baseball team?  I do, am, still.  I am so torqued with the lack of progress by the Mariners, I want to break a bat over my knee.  I can't of course, being 56 years old and a weenie, so I may have to use some stand-ins to take care of it for me.
Justin Smoak feeds my frustration by striking out-again. Aghhh.
 Yes, it's just past the halfway mark in the MLB season.  The M's suck and they suck hard. Trailing the Texas Rangers by 16.5 games, and the only team in the AL West to be below .500, this is not  where I hoped they'd be at the halfway point. I'd projected 75 wins for the season, and realistically they're on a pace to match last year's 95 losses, but could easily turn that into 100 losses. They've been disappointing losses too.  I knew the pitching, with youngsters Blake Beavan and Hector Noesi in the starting rotation wouldn't be as strong as in years past.  But the real problem with this team has been offense.  They've gone from merely being inconsistent, to wandering in the same scoring desert as the past two years.  They struggle to create runs at all.  While the pitching generally improved as the season wore on with the departure of Noesi and Beaven to AAA, the offense has gotten worse.
Bo Jackson was an all-star bat breaker.  I'll he could hit a home run out of Safeco Field.
Where did it all go so wrong?  Lots of reasons really.  The most obvious is the Mariners hitting woes haven't come close to being resolved. The M's decided to go with youth, counting on Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero, Kyle Seager, Michael Saunders, Casper Wells, and Justin Smoak to build their offense, with veterans Ichiro Suzuki, Miguel Olivo and Chone Figgins on the team to provide some veteran leadership.  They also added John Jaso as a player off the bench.  The outcome thus far is the young players have mostly struggled.   Justin Smoak continues to have a swing that is much too long and often leaves him looking foolish at the plate.  Montero strikes out too often, and rarely walks.  Ackley's struggles may be the biggest surprise, because his rookie half season was pretty good.

Yes there are some exceptions here.  Saunders is maturing into the toolsy, athletic player I hoped he would, displaying good defense, some power and speed.  If there is a pleasant surprise on the team it is Saunders.  Seager has shown glimpses of offensive talent, but as the season has gone on, needs to make adjustments as pitchers are learning how to pitch to him.  Wells was sent to Tacoma for three weeks and returned an improved hitter.  Another athletic outfielder, he brought better right-handed hitting and stronger defense to the outfield. John Jaso, picked up in the off-season, is the team's most clutch player, occasionally starting at catcher and DH, but providing some dramatic moments off the bench in late pinch hitting assignments.
Carlos Zambrano hasn't pitched all that well for a while, but damn he can really bust the lumber. 
Unfortunately those veteran leaders have not emerged.  Olivo began the year with a groin injury and simply has not been effective offensively on his return.  Increasingly Montero and Jaso took a larger role catching and Miggie a larger role on the sidelines.  Chone Figgins is simply a punchline for jokes, used mostly as a late defensive replacement or pinch runner.  Figgins is taking up roster spots.  He can't help this team, and big contract or not should simply be dropped through the trap door. Ichiro is having his career worst offensive year, and with his sphinx-like attitude can offer little veteran leadership.  Nope, the kids are all on their own.
Former Mariner Milton Bradley was well known for his level of frustration.  Here he wears a Padre uniform at Safeco Field with his bat in two tidy pieces.
There is one more increasingly important factor that is playing into the discussion about this year's Mariners, and that is the effect of Safeco Field on the young hitters.  ESPN has Safeco rated as the second worst park to hit in, behind San Francisco's AT & T Park.  Yahoo Sports show the Mariners as hitting a slash line of .256/.305/.410 on the road, which is in the top half of MLB rankings .  At home however, they are a league worst .195/.273/.289.  More than ever, players seem to be bamboozled by the spacious park, and more ruckus is raised about moving the fences in than ever before.  How much?  Five feet?  Ten feet? Twenty-five feet?  The M's have fine home pitching stats, but take 'em out on the road to pitch in the league's launching pads and they become very ordinary.  Do we want to risk the the damage to our up and coming pitching staff, because whatever gain the M's get in their home at bats will also accrue to their adversaries. Oddly, the numbers for the visiting teams are way down for Safeco too.
Big Papi also has a big temper and has no trouble turning his stick into kindling.
So what should the M's do?  If I could make the call, it would be time time to drop Figgins into the shark tank and call it good. At least Justin Smoak would go down to Tacoma and work on shortening his swing.  I'd for sure put Carlos Peguero on the Tacoma Express because there's no way he belongs here.  Complicating all this is the fact there is nobody in Tacoma who can really help improve things.  At best they'd be place holders.  That would be fine if the Tacoma experience would help the young guys, like Smoak, Ackley and Montero build their confidence and put in the work they need to improve. Three weeks in AAA, and a little more playing time, did wonders for Casper Wells.  Who could the M's call up?  Mike Carp, if he's healthy and ready.  First baseman Luis Jimenez has had a great first half  and is a AAA all-star.  Again, this is short term, until Justin can smoke 'em again.  Luis Rodriguez is another solid organizational player who could fill in for Ackley, or take on Munenori Kawasaki's utility role until Dustin returns. If the M's feel they need another catcher they could call up Guillermo Quiroz, another AAA all star.
Even the dead can get in on the act as the late Ken Caminiti does his impression of a shredder/chipper.
I know, I see the heads shaking and those bad words forming on your lips.  The season has flown and moves like this simply can't make it worse. These guys for better or worse are our future core, and if they need some help, for god's sake get it for them.  Unfortunately, Larry Larue's article in the News Tribune suggested there would be little change for the Mariners after the break.  I think that's a mistake.  While I never believed this would be the year for the young M's, I did think this would be a year of growth, and that seems unlikely now. I'm not giving up on this young core, but they clearly have a long way to go.

Monday, July 9, 2012

No, Amos is not Jack, but that's okay.

We completed our second night with Amos.  The thunderstorm that rolled through was loud and scary and he whimpered a bit.  I was wakeful, and asked him out of his crate.  We shared soft words and cuddles until the noise was gone.
Amos with Lorri.  He likes to get right up next to you, so you can give him a nice scratch.
When I left Moses Lake with the two dogs in the car, I confess some very conflicted feelings that left me on the edge.  First, I was truly moved by how much I was drawn to Amos.  He was very vulnerable, being taken from his long time family, riding in a car (something he wasn't super comfortable with.)  He is a beautiful dog with striking features, and with a very sweet disposition.  It left me feeling guilty.  Two months ago my heart was broken; my friend was gone, dead.  I spent the part of a week crying whenever I thought of him.  The only thing that seemed to save me was work. Was I dishonoring my Jack's memory because I was drawn to Amos?  I had some of those feelings yesterday, and I have them today.
Lucy's trying to figure out what the heck this is all about.  Tonight she dismantled a tennis ball just to show it this Amos guy is no big deal.
I think the answer is no.  I have not replaced Jack.  Jack is irreplaceable, just as Lucy is, and Amos will be.  It's amazing how much Australian Shepherds are like people.  They are distinctly different from one another, as different as my son Patrick is from my son Casey.  I love them both the same, but Patrick is wildly creative and entertaining, while Casey is reflective and introspective. But they are both wonderful, interesting young men I love to be around.   The same is true of these wonderfully entertaining dogs.  Jack was all on fire, all the time.  Lucy is sweet, but demanding.  Amos is, well, I haven't quite figured that out yet.
Lorri, catching a moment away from doggie affection and watching the Newsroom.
I do know this: he's starting to be more comfortable.  We were out before 5:00 walking today. He was great on the leash, easily seeming as comfortable as Lucy. He wanders the house looking for us now.  He jumped up on the bed this morning, sheepishly slinking across the coverlet before flopping on his back for a tummy scratch.  Lorri and I talked about the possibility of agility training, because he needs a job.  However, his biggest job is to be my companion.  There is a still a huge hole in my life, and I still miss my little red dog, but Amos is making it a lot easier.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The day Amos came to live with us

It was 93 degrees yesterday in Moses Lake.  I could use a few days away from the heat I thought I left in Virginia.  We were at the Blue Heron city park to meet Marilyn and Randie Gadberry. We'd invited Lucy to join us and she was a quiet, but concerned companion during our trip across the mountains. 
This photo simply doesn't do Amos justice.  He is a beautiful dog with unusual coloring and markings.
The Gadberrys arrived shortly after noon, as planned, with Amos.  Amos is a beautiful red merle with marbled eyes.  It was a trying day for him.  He was so scared he was shaking.  Leaving his home, in a car, being given to people far away from the family he'd always known was really hard for him.  He could scarcely get settled in the Subaru during the three hour drive home.

Lucy isn't wild about a new companion in the house.  She's snapped at him a couple of times, which has added to his discomfort.  I give him lots of attention, though this morning he seemed even more standoffish than ever.  It will take time, but I know we'll be friends.  We've already been for a morning walk and had breakfast. 

"What am I doing here??!!  It's too damned hot!!"  Lucy was an impatient passenger yesterday.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Home sweet home

Katie and her friend Napoleon outside her home in Columbia, Md.
We rolled home last night at about 2:00 in the morning.  It was a wonderful trip.  Except for the heat, I have nothing to complain about, and even at that, I was in an air conditioned environment most of the time. Except, of course, for my amazing outdoor adventures, and there were plenty of those.

Let me just recount this trip for a moment.  Lorri and I left on the 26th for a family vacation that had three parts.  1) Spend three days in Baltimore on the inner harbor, 2) travel to Charlottesville, Virginia for niece Katie Valliere's wedding and share a house for three days with brother in law Paul Miller and Pat and Michelle, 3) wrap up with three days with friends John Valliere and Shirley Hottot in northern Virginia.  Sounds like fun, right?  A bit of travel with the family element included.
Son Patrick, bride Katie, and brother in law Paul Miller share smiles on Katie's big night
Daughter in law Michelle and niece Alex laugh it up at the wedding.
First, let's talk about the wedding.  Katie is my wife's niece.  A 23 year old beauty, marrying an amusing 26 year old cop, Dan, who clearly loves her.  Funny, smart, driven to be successful, and owners of an awesome pug named Napoleon, they are meant to be together.  The wedding was scheduled for outdoors in the Charlottesville piedmont.  Katie contacted me a year ago about officiating at the ceremony, something I haven't done since this blog began.  Unfortunately, Virginia law simply made it impossible, so I became the official reader.  Despite the fact the venue lost all power because of the massive storm that passed rapidly through the area the night before the big doings, the wedding was a huge success, and the kids and their many attending friends and family will always remember it.
A look at the Md. Rte 1 bridge across the Anacostia, the likely crossing place for the British at Bladensburg.

Memorial to the Marines at Bladensburg inside Fort Lincoln Cemetery

Battle of North Point state parkland near Baltimore.

The masts of the USS Constellation at historic Baltimore seaport.

USS Torsk, WWII submarine
My goal was always to be a good soldier and do whatever was required of me, but to sneak in some history adventures when possible.  When we rolled into Baltimore on Tuesday the 26th, we had few plans, but I had already talked Lorri into letting me take Wednesday on the road to visit War of 1812 sites.  I've explained that day on my companion blog.  It was a wonderful day, and really stoked the fire to see more battlefields if at all possible.  During our Charlottesville stay, I made it out to New Market in the Shenandoah Valley.  When we made it to John and Shirley's it was Chancellorsville and Manassas (First Bull Run.)
Frank Robinson statue in Camden Yards
Greeting fans at Pfitzner Park, home of the Peninsula Pilots
Baseball is baseball, and the 4th of July game between the Fredrick Keys and Peninsula Nationals was no different
Yours truly and Lorri outside Phillips on Baltimore's inner harbor.
My other great love, baseball, was also remembered.  I've recounted my trip to Camden Yards, which was truly wonderful.  It's a great park.  John is from New Hampshire and a huge Red Sox fan.  I respect his love for his home town team, which is far more genuine than the bandwagon fans of Puget Sound.  He's also become attached to the Nationals, and on the fourth of July we went off to see the Peninsula Nationals, a high A team, with my nieces Alex and Beth Anne.  Despite the ridiculous weather, it was a lot of fun.  Very much a classic minor league environment and really enjoyable.  Nats lost 6-4 after allowing two late three run rallies, and being shut down by a couple of talented relievers.

I really appreciated those that indulged my goofy obsessions-John, Shirley, Paul, my nieces, and, of course my wonderful wife, who understands that transporting me to a history-rich land is about like supplying cocaine to an addict.