July 15, 2011 in Sports

Mariners’ ‘consistency’ their biggest issue

By The Spokesman-Review
 

SEATTLE – On Bastille Day, what did the Seattle Mariners decide to celebrate at the ballpark?

Nordic Heritage Night.

Uff da. Can’t anybody here read a calendar?

OK, maybe they can.

If it’s the second half of the baseball season, then it’s time for the persistent, persuasive M’s to exit gracefully into the wings of the American League West, not to be heard from again until the trading deadline or until manager Eric Wedge decides to donate the wooly critter under his nose to a petting zoo, whichever comes first.

It has been fun – far more entertaining than the Mariners gave us reason to think it would be during the first two weeks of the season, or even judging by their feeble offensive statistics.

In Seattle, it’s not OPS. It’s OOPS.

There have been so many signature moments of good-pitch/not-a- chance-in-hell-of-a-hit for the 2011 Mariners that it seems pointless to elevate one, but Thursday night’s 5-0 loss to the Texas Rangers should at least be in the stepladder finals.

The M’s, having slogged into the All-Star break on a five-game losing streak, were back from three days off – rested, revived and supposedly reassured by Wedge that scrappiness which had them at .500 just over a week ago was no accident.

Plus, with the West leaders in town, here was an opportunity to undo what was done during that lost weekend in Anaheim, Calif.

“You should always be excited to play a team in your division that’s ahead of you,” Wedge said. “That’s an opportunity. You don’t want to make any more of it than that – you don’t want it to get in the way of your performance.

“Ultimately, these guys have to come out there and be relaxed, but aggressive – with a mindset that you’re going to go out and perform.”

Instead, they were typically passive and tied in knots by Derek Holland, a hard-throwing left-hander Spokane baseball mavens may remember from his stint with the Indians in 2007 – or otherwise not much at all.

Holland is just 24 and his numbers over his two previous big league seasons betray his youth – 11-17 record, 5.52 earned-run average. But this year he is 8-4 with back-to-back shutouts, and on Thursday he had a perfect game until he walked Franklin Gutierrez to open the sixth inning and then lost his no-hitter to … Chone Figgins?

If you’re looking for the designer stat for that, it’s IORP – Irony Over Replacement Player.

Even so, it has taken Holland these two superlative outings to get his ERA under 5, so it’s not as if he’d even be in Seattle’s rotation, where Thursday starter Jason Vargas’ 3.68 is the highest number.

But, funky delivery or not, Holland may as well have been Koufax out there. The M’s seem to fabricate a lot of Koufaxes.

And as it has off and on all season, it’s wearing on the combustible Wedge.

“You’re going to get fastballs to hit – the kid is out there throwing hard – and you’ve got to be ready for it,” he grumbled. “It’s the same thing we’ve been talking about.

“Until these guys understand that you’ve got to take some risks, you have to get out there and put the barrel on the ball and make some adjustments off what you’re seeing, we’re going to continue to struggle.”

The fewest runs in the major leagues, the lowest batting average, the lowest OPS – a half a season of this should suggest, on the heels of similar drear in 2010, that they simply aren’t equipped. And, collectively, they aren’t – their short, inspirational bursts notwithstanding.

With the hoohah of the build-up to the franchise’s reunion weekend for the 2001 blasters who won 116 games, the slippage of a decade has been frightfully underscored. What might be overlooked is the forceful personalities that drove that clubhouse, the Boones and Buhners and Camerons – though, yes, the quiet guys like Edgar Martinez and John Olerud got it done, too.

This team is bereft of forceful personalities – aside from the manager. It’s not like they don’t hit because they want to retreat into a shell, but it’s nice and quiet in there when they don’t.

“Ultimately,” said Wedge, “it’s a 1-on-1 battle out there.”

A losing battle – despite the fact that the Mariners have the best starting rotation in the American League, leading every significant statistical category but saddled with the worst support.

“I just want us,” Wedged sighed, “to be a more consistent ball club.”

Balanced, he meant. Well-rounded. For the fact is, the Mariners are as consistent as can be.

Uff da, indeed.


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