Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
July 2, 2007
BASEBALL: The Absent Mariner
I'd agree with Jim Caple that the most logical explanation for Mike Hargrove's sudden resignation as Mariners manager while riding an 8-game winning streak is that there's more we don't know - probably something in his life off the field he prefers not to get into publicly (an impression only underlined by his players professing to understand better once they taked to him).
On the other hand, it's easy to feel depressed and unmotivated when the team is losing; when you are on a hot streak and you still don't feel like coming to work, that should tell you something. It's like when the Pirates started winning in the late 80s and early 90s, and they still couldn't sell tickets.
Anyway, while the Mariners may be hot, I'm still skeptical of them. Their record is 45-33, but their Pythagorean record is 40-38. They are more dependent on high batting averages than any team in the majors. They've drawn 199 walks as a team; the Cardinals are second to last in the majors at 225. Only one guy on the roster, Richie Sexson, has more than 10 home runs, and he's batting .211. They are next to last in the league in doubles and triples. Their pitching staff is second only to the Yankees for fewest strikeouts in the AL, and besides the mediocre Jarrod Washburn, their only halfway-reputable starting pitcher is Felix Hernandez, who hasn't been right since his DL stay in April. The team's defensive efficiency is next to last in the AL, ahead of only the Devil Rays. Pitchers who don't strike people out and fielders who don't catch the ball are a bad combination; only an AL-best, Safeco-aided 56 homers allowed has saved them from ignominy.
That's not to say the Mariners have no assets. Hernandez and Sexson could contribute tremendously in the second half, and of course the Safeco caveat applies as well to Beltre and Jose Guillen, who aren't as punchless as their raw numbers suggest. Ichiro's .365 batting average is not exactly a fluke. The team's success is hugely dependent on closer JJ Putz (0.92 ERA) and a corps of setup/middle relievers whose Putz-less names are little-known outside Seattle - George Sherrill (1.48 ERA), Eric O'Flaherty (2.28), Sean Green (2.70), and Brandnon Morrow (3.68) - although you have to wonder how long those guys will be that lights-out, especially since the latter three had thrown a combined 43 major league innings before this season.
Bottom line: the Mariners are already overachieving and I don't see where they have a whole lot to fall back on when the hot parts of the team cool off. Hargrove's successor may end up deciding he got out at just the right time.