A GRIP ON SPORTS • As May leaves us and we zoom into June, it seems like a good day to check in with our major sports teams. Call it an end of May tune up.
• The first two months of the baseball season haven’t been kind to the Mariners. How will the final four be? Depends.
The M’s sit fourth in the American League West. They are also 6½ games behind in the wild card race. Heck, their 20 wins are more than only two A.L. teams. In other words, they have spotted everyone else a six-length lead a third of the way through the race.
To become baseball’s version of Rich Strike – you remember Rich Strike, don’t you? The 80-1 longshot who was ahead of only two horses a half-mile in, but still came roaring back to win the Kentucky Derby 24 days ago – the Mariners will have to hit better. And the bullpen will have to begin to duplicate its 2021 performance if not perfectly at least at lot closer than its been.
The former is possible. The lineup improved markedly when Kyle Lewis took over the designated hitter role and another bump should happen if and when Mitch Haniger returns from his high ankle sprain. The latter? That’s tougher. Bullpens are always crapshoots. Last year Seattle rolled sevens. This year, if it hasn’t tossed snake eyes every night, it hasn’t hit the number often.
Our guess is Jerry Dipoto will keep trying different combinations until, hopefully, he finds the right mix. If not, the M’s will not come roaring down the stretch.
• Speaking of roaring, how the heck did the Mariners not play a game on Memorial Day? A holiday in early May, kids out of school, parents off and Seattle, along with too many other MLB teams, take the day off? That’s just idiotic.
Baseball once again finds an innovative way to screw up.
• Those who run NCAA baseball seem to have one goal: Make it as hard as possible for West Coast teams to prevail. After all, who needs another NCAA Division I title west of the Rockies? The left side of the country already has 35 (out of 74 total) and the SEC needs more. That conference is paying for it.
A good example? Just two regionals in the western third of the nation, at Stanford and at Oregon State. Gonzaga, the highest ranked western team outside the Pac-12, has to travel to Virginia to play. In the same regional with Virginia Tech, the fourth overall seed. Nice.
Meanwhile, Stanford’s regional is loaded – other than fourth-seed Binghamton, Tony Kornheiser’s alma mater. Texas State is 45-12 and could have been a top seed. It’s second here. UC Santa Barbara is 43-12, won the Big West with a 27-3 mark and is the third seed. The Cardinal may be the second overall seed (behind Tennessee), but it does not seem like it.
Oh, one more thing. Only Oregon and Gonzaga are on the left side of the bracket. Every other school from west of the Rockies, including Oregon State, the third overall sees, is on the right side. Not what you would call regional balance.
• One last thought. If Washington State wants to win the final North Division football title (the Pac-12 is probably going to drop the divisional format after this season), the Cougars have the schedule to do it. Three of their four toughest Pac-12 games are in Martin Stadium: Oregon, Utah and Washington. Only USC out of that group is on the road. A 7-2 Pac-12 mark is possible and that may just be the best in the North.
WSU: If you want to know who has the toughest football schedule in the conference, Jon Wilner tells you in the Mercury News this morning. Hint, it’s not Washington State or Washington. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12 and college sports, the late additions from the transfer portal have really helped USC, Oregon and UCLA.
Gonzaga: The Bulldogs have never advanced beyond baseball’s regional round in part because they always seem to be given a tough assignment. The first year we ever watched GU play was 1980, when they twice defeated defending champion Cal State Fullerton in the Tucson regional. That Fullerton team was the best college team we ever covered – it wasn’t close – and the Zags beat them twice. Then lost to the Wildcats, who went on to battle through the losers’ bracket to win the World Series title. Colton Clark has this story on the Zags’ assignment in 2022.
EWU and Idaho: Around the Big Sky, Montana State added to its basketball coaching staff.
Preps: Former West Valley High runner Annika Esvelt is an All-American. That information leads off the S-R’s latest local briefs column.
Mariners: The pitching led Seattle to their series win against the Astros. Can it continue to excel? … We linked Matt Calkins’ ideas on how the M’s can get back into contention above but if you missed it, here it is again. … Jarred Kelenic seems to be getting his stroke back.
Tennis: Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal will meet for the 59th time Tuesday. And for the 10th time in the French Open. It also may be their last meeting. As we all know, age is undefeated.
• We have had quite a bit of free time lately but that ends today. It’s time to get back in the gym as high school sports begin their summer seasons. Of course, that means the weather will turn nice. Until later …