Series Preview in Blog: Seattle Mariners

It seems like the Twins and Mariners have played each other a ton already this season. But we’ll give it another go this weekend, this time in Seattle. Let’s see what USS Mariner and Lookout Landing have to say one more time.

Yesterday was an off day for Seattle, and as it came almost exactly one third of the way through the season, it seemed like an ideal time to take stock of the team and the season. The Mariners are 26-28, in third place in the AL West (5.5 GB).  Like any team, there are overachievers and underachievers.  Minnesota will face two of the starting pitchers on the “likely to get worse” side of things, so hopefully regression is swift and severe for them.  The next step after taking stock of the team is to survey the options for improving it.  One of the biggest weaknesses has been the middle infield positions, and unfortunately for the Mariners, that deficiency runs pretty deep in their organization.

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Series Preview in Blog: Seattle Mariners

The Twins (13-16) take on the Mariners (15-14) at home this weekend.  Seattle has lost their last four games and fallen out of first place in the AL West.  They currently sit one half game behind Texas.  The Mariners are 8-7 on the road thus far this season, while the Twins are 9-8 at home.

The latest losing streak aside, this is a team that not many expected to be this close to first place at any point past the first week of the season.  The fans have been pleased with the moderate success so far.  Some express that pleasure via a short ecstatic blog post, and some feel compelled to shout their love of Mariners’ players from the proverbial mountain top.

I think most Mariners fans still love Ken Griffey, Jr. as well, maybe not for what he’s bringing to the table so far this year, but over his career as a whole.  Despite his struggles (and some injuries – inflamed colon? ouch.) he seems to be really enjoying himself in Seattle this time around.  Across the outfield, Franklin Gutierrez is probably enjoying himself too, as he is on pace for a career year at the plate while playing stellar outfield defense.

–PROBABLE PITCHERS–

Baker v. C. Jakubauskas

Can Baker change his name to Jeremy for a day?

Liriano v. F. Hernandez

Is it a requirement that every time the Twins and Mariners play, that these two face each other?

Blackburn v. E. Bedard

Was it a bad idea to set up a question theme with the first two matchups when I couldn’t think of one for the third?

Series Preview in Blog: Seattle Mariners

It’s a new season, so I’m going to start writing these series previews again.  Last year I only made it about a month before other stuff got in my way.  I’ve got a thesis to write and a cross-country move to pull off this summer, so it may be a little thin on coverage here and there, but that’s a ways off right now.  Right now it’s a brand new season.

The opening series for 2009 pits the Twins against the Seattle Mariners.  So far the Twins and Mariners are tied in the standings on the season, both with the best record in the AL.  This will be the last opening day for the Twins in the Metrodome, they are currently 7-7 in opening days at the Metrodome, but have won 6 of the last 7 times they have started the season at home.

The Mariners and Twins have both had some issues with injuries this spring.  The Twins are, as we all know, without Joe Mauer for the beginning of the season.  The Mariners are also without their perennial MVP candidate, Ichiro is out for a week or two recovering from a bleeding ulcer.  Combine that with the loss Scott Baker for the Twins and you can see how easily preseason predictions can be thrown off the mark.  In the Mariners case, inaccurate preseason predictions would be a good thing, because pretty much everyone has them struggling this year.  One can always find reasons for optimism, but the DL stint for Ichiro certainly doesn’t start things off on the right foot.

The biggest (by biggest, I mean most discussed) acquisition for the Mariners this offseason was the homecoming of Ken Griffey, Jr.   He’s not terribly young at this point, and it seems he would be ideal for the DH role, but it seems inevitable that Mariners fans will see him out in the outfield this season.  Without Ichiro, the Mariners only have 3 other outfielders on the roster, so I’m sure we’ll see him in the outfield in this series.  Mariners fans are a little wary of what to expect from Griffey, but they are certainly not looking forward to seeing him face Liriano (I assumed Ibanez didn’t do well against Fuentes – and after looking it up, Ibanez struck out in his only at-bat against him in 2006 – it must have been epic)

— PITCHING PROBABLES —

Liriano v. F. Hernandez

Blackburn v. E. Bedard

Slowey v. C. Silva

Perkins v. J. Washburn

Reading the Mariners blogs, across the board people write and discuss the prospects for Felix Hernandez and Eric Bedard this season, meanwhile Silva and Washburn are pretty much dismissed as bloated contracts left over from the previous front office.   It’s interesting to note that in their last outings Hernandez and Bedard combined to give up 15 runs in 10 innings.  Of course, it was spring training and it was on April 1, so we can’t draw any real conclusions (nor can we rule out some elaborate April Fools Day prank).

The only Seattle pitcher in the rotation that the Twins won’t face is Ryan Rowland-Smith, who ended up there because Brandon Morrow essentially refused the job in order to become the team’s closer.  The reason that’s remarkable is that it leaves the Mariners bullpen without any left-handed pitchers.  New manager Don Wakamatsu has said that he isn’t overly concerned with matchups, with this move, it appears he may be serious.

Here’s some info on Chris Jakubauskas, a rookie who will be one of the right-handed relievers expected to shut down Morneau and Kubel in the late innings.

And with that the 2009 season begins.  Go Twins!

Series Preview in Blog: Seattle Mariners (Round 2)

This post is also published at Stick and Ball Guy’s site. Stop by and check out what SBG Nation has to say.

Minnesota Twins (58-59) @ Seattle Mariners (65-50)

The Twins continue their death march road trip with a three game series in Seattle. Thus far they are 1-5 on this trip, and have dipped below the .500 mark for the first time in quite a while. The Mariners on the other hand return home after a road trip through Baltimore and Chicago which saw them go 5-1 while pounding out 47 runs. That road trip got Seattle back to .500 away from home, but their home record is an impressive 37-22 (trailing only LA, Bos, NY for best in AL). The Twins have struggled lately on the road, winning only 3 of their last 14 away from the Dome while seeing their road record fall to 26-32. The Mariners are currently in second place in the AL West, 3.5 games behind the Angels. In the Wild Card standings, they are the current leaders, with a one loss lead on the Yankees, but it would probably be prudent to focus on the division for now.

Mike Hargrove made the surprising decision to step down in the middle of an 8-game winning streak earlier in the season. The fact that he retired despite the fact that his Mariners team was starting to show signs of competing for a playoff spot didn’t satisfy some fans, who may have preferred a more ignominious exit. His replacement, bench coach John McLaren, hasn’t exactly been earning rave reviews. Although he hasn’t been the subject of too many long-winded rants, most of the criticisms are short, quick, and to the point. On the other hand, he has shown an increasing willingness to mix things up as he gets more comfortable in his role, and every now and then you have to give credit where credit is due when a series of moves works out just as planned.

A lot of the frustration with McLaren (and before him, Hargrove) stems from the unwillingness to sit underperforming veterans like Raul Ibanez and Richie Sexson. If someone ran a business like the Mariners run their roster, well you can see it probably wouldn’t work that well. Sexson has struggled this year, posting a .203/.298/.390 line, and it doesn’t look like it will improve real soon. The recent road trip saw him hit .353/.353/.412 and could be a sign of him turning it around, but don’t be fooled. Mariners fans still would rather have anyone else up there in the middle of a rally.

Raul Ibanez is a similar case to Sexson. He has been less than impressive this year, both with the bat (.253/.310/.387 before recent road trip) and in the field. He too heated up on the recent road trip, hitting 5 homeruns in 5 games and posting an OPS of 1.919 in 26 PA in Baltimore and Chicago (two hitters parks in the heat of August, it will be interesting to see if these two hitter’s resurgence carries over to the pitcher-friendly Safeco Field). The struggles of Ibanez prompted the callup of Adam Jones, the Mariners top hitting prospect. The reaction of some of the veteran players to that move was, to put it nicely, a little less than enthusiastic. Jones has gotten 13 PA so far and has hit well (.417/.462/.500) but given the veteran’s recent hot bats, he may not get as much playing time as some would like.

In other prospect news, Ryan Rowland-Smith made his major league debut earlier this season, and he has appeared in 11 games this year. He made at least one good first impression with an appearance against the Red Sox.

Things get started off with Johan Santana versus Felix Hernandez. The Mariners have actually had more success against left-handed starting pitchers this year. You’ve no doubt heard about turning around a switch-hitter to get a more favorable matchup, but the Mariners have been employing the same tactic against LHP, which may account for their success. King Felix hasn’t quite returned to the utterly dominating form he was in early in the season, and some fans are getting tired of his non-regal behavior. Sometimes you just need to step back and realize that, even if he’s not everything you want right now, he’s still something special.

Tuesday pits Matt Garza against Horacio Ramirez in a pitching matchup that might actually favor the Twins. Ramirez has really struggled this year, but he’s been better at home, so he’s got that going for him (in addition to facing the Twins offense).

The road trip ends with Scott Baker taking on Jarrod Washburn, which means they will face two different Jareds on this trip and neither one can spell their name correctly. The Twins will want to work some counts and get Washburn’s pitch count up because he has run out of gas pretty consistently in his recent starts.

Kansas City has Emil Brown. Seattle has the Mariner Moose. It’s gettin’ dangerous out there on the diamond.

Finally, Ichiro just signed a pretty big contract, but, seeing as how he’s an odd dude, he attributes the decision to stay in Seattle to his dog. Maybe he’s hallucinating due to hunger, seeing as how he apparently never eats anything.

Series Preview in Blog: Seattle Mariners

Minnesota Twins (7-5) @ Seattle Mariners (5-3)

Both the Twins and Mariners had Monday off, the Twins after a four game split with the Devil Rays at home, while this weekend the Mariners won two of three from Texas at home, giving them two series wins at home so far this season in two tries. Seattle enters this series in first place in the AL West.

On to the M’s:

The Devil Rays anagrams were a hit last time, so I’ll provide a couple for the M’s free of charge. If you feel like playing around on your own, go here.

Seattle Mariners: Tenser Materials; Termite Arsenals; Streamline Tears; Terminal Teasers

* Starters for this series *
Jeff Weaver: No Anagrams
Felix Hernandez: Hazel fern index
Jarrod Washburn: Drab jar who runs

I’m sure you all can do better, but it’s late and I still have the rest of this thing to write. Onward!

We will see Ramon Ortiz against Jeff Weaver on Tuesday, Weaver had a very rough debut (7 runs in 2.0 IP) which led the M’s to consider trying out the new shift proposed here. Felix Hernandez (see below for links) will go against Carlos Silva on Wednesday (check out my analysis of Silva’s first two starts over at MN Sports Guys). It’s kind of funny that in eight games so far this season, Seattle has yet to face a left handed starting pitcher. They will get to face one of the best on Thursday when Johan Santana takes the mound against Jarrod Washburn. Johan has been his usual dominating self against the Mariners in the past. Here’s hoping that continues.

Let’s get the important stuff out of the way. I give you a somewhat dated guide to drinking at Safeco Field on a budget (please use responsibly).

USS Mariner is definitely one of the most widely read blogs, not just for Mariner’s fans, but for baseball fans in general. I’ll let you poke around over there on your own, but they have published some interesting looks at trade value, both the good and the bad. I bet you can guess the two Twins in the top 10 on the “good” list.

Unfortunately for the Mariners, perhaps the biggest story so far this season has been off the field, when their four game series with Cleveland was completely cancelled due to a blizzard. That didn’t stop the guys at Lookout Landing from recapping what might have been. In the first game of the series, the two teams came within one strike of completing the fifth inning when Mike Hargrove delayed long enough with the umpires that the conditions became so bad that the game was called. Here’s a defense of that ploy, in probably one of the only concrete examples of a manager saving his team from a loss.

Of course, the biggest story on the field for Seattle has been the white-hot start of Felix Hernandez. Through two starts, he has not allowed a run in 17.0 IP, only allowed 4 hits and 4 walks while striking out 18. He’s seriously good, he has a lower ERA than Carlos Silva so far this year! (how many of you would have bet on that a month ago… wait, never mind). Mariner fans are understandably excited about the ascension of “King Felix” thus far, and those who expressed doubts are beating a hasty retreat.

It seems like every team we’ve played so far this year has their own Japanese import (Chicago: Iguchi, New York: Matsui, Igawa, Tampa: Iwamura), but the Mariners have one of the earliest, biggest, and best imports in Ichiro (owner of an impressive death glare, seriously, don’t make him mad). Since his debut in 2001, the influx of Japanese players from the NPB to Major League Baseball has had enormous effects on the game both here and there. Robert Whiting, author of several books about Japanese baseball, has written a series of articles in the Japan Times on whether this migration is the beginning of the end of the Japanese baseball league.

The Mariner’s regular outfield consists of Ichiro, Jose Guillen, and Raul Ibanez while the remainder of the lineup is made up of Richie “Funk Blast” Sexson, Jose Lopez, Yuniesky Betancourt, and Adrian Beltre, with Jose Vidro as the backup infielder/DH. Of those eight players, only Ichiro is batting higher than .235. So far most of the offense has come from catcher Kenji Johjima (.476/.542/.714 in 21 at bats). Johjima’s backup has a little history with the Twins.

As I mentioned above, the offense thus far has been awful for the Mariners, but may be starting to come around. They had scored 20 runs in the first 6 games before beating up the Rangers for 22 in their last two wins.

OTHER MARINER BLOGS:
http://www.niceguysfinishthird.com/index.php
http://blog.seattlepi.nwsource.com/marinerfan/