I was thinking about the Mariners and their team as I sauntered into the Colliseum last Wednesday night, for the Athletics were indeed taking on the AL West cellar dwellers.
With just 55 wins this year--only Pittsburgh and Baltimore are worse--it seems like kind of a surprise, as The M's came into the season as pretty heavy favorites to take the west. With an arm arsonal of Cliff Lee, King Felix, and Erik Bedard, couple with Chone Figgins and Casey Kotchman and Milton Bradley, joined by stalwart Ichiro, well there was to be no stopping these guys.
Now, I for one never bought in. I did like the Rangers, but truth is I thought the Angels would once again run the category, so it is not like my clairvoyance was any better than any of those Mariner supporters.
But, somehow, over the last few years--maybe going back to the actual swap for the barely healthy Bedard--the Mariners have simply become a second rate team.
They have not swapped well, nor have they been particularly strong at free agent signings, and I write that knowing they did pluck Russell Branyan off the scrapheap.
The thing is, the Mariners, much like the Twins, always played good fundamental baseball. Good defense. Speed. Some pop. Good starting pitching. All of these were hallmarks of the strong Mariners teams of the last decade, but the last year, whatever organization and planning had guided Seattle to success seems to have gone out the window.
This puts the Mariners down there with the Royals as being amongst the least organized front offices in the majors (note that Baltimore now has some good young players, a few thanks to Seattle, and the Pirates might not seem to have a plan, but they have a handful of very good young players).
In my Strat-O-Matic league, we have 30 teams and strict usage rules (in case you are not familiar with Strat, it is a Sim game that recreates the previous year, where the games are played head-to-head) meaning once the innings or at-bats of a given player are exhausted, an owner cannot use that player (or, risk severe penalties during the following year's rookie draft).
In order to allow owners with less depth to still field a team, each squad is assigned a pair of dog starters and hitters. The pitchers can toss 150 innings, but their ERA is 9.00, WHIP is 1.50, while the hitters have .150 averages with no pop, speed, or defense. If you play Scoresheet, this is much like that format automatically advancing a Triple-A pitcher or hitter to fill a void.
In the Strat league, there are always a handful of teams that by the stretch run simply have to play these dog players in order to field a team (I tend to lick my chops when I know I will face Bill Hands on the hill, and Rusty Kunz behind the dish, for it is against these weaker teams that a good squad can get fat and make a pennant run. Similarly, during the season, if a team is to make a run, just like at The Show, you must beat these weaker squads.
So, as I settled into my seat and got set up for the Seattle game, drawing up their lineup featuring Branyan and Josh Wilson and Kotchman, it seemed like the Athletics, not like they are a juggernaut, were facing one of the lame Strat teams, and despite a two-run shot in the first and a solo blast in the second, Oakland hung in and won the game, 4-3.
As I walked out the of park post game, it did make me chuckle, and then feel some sadness at the similarity between the Mariners and those lousy Strat teams in the league, for surely they were not so far apart. Poor M's. I do hope they get better. They cannot get much worse.