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Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.

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April 23, 2007 8:57 AM

April misery

Posted by Geoff Baker

Remember back in March when we pointed out that the "Hot Seat" season could not be measured in the same time increments as regular ones? The point was, each and every slump was going to be magnified. Shrugging off an April losing streak, now at six and counting for the Mariners, was not going to be easy for this ballclub given all the futures at stake. Heck, even the team I used to cover, the Blue Jays, are in a bit of turmoil with a five-game losing streak. At just three losses, manager John Gibbons -- given an extension this spring by the way -- made some sarcastic comments about being fired.

So, where does that leave the Mariners and manager Mike Hargrove? Well, in a countdown stage, it would appear. Here's my take: the team will not allow the streak to hit double-digits without making a dugout move. Just my hunch. A 10th loss in a row would come in the series finale in Oakland on Thursday before the Mariners return to Seattle for a homestand beginning Friday. Teams sometimes prefer to make managerial moves at home. Helps them avoid two sets of media frenzy. I should mention though, that the last manager firing I covered took place on the road when the Jays canned Carlos Tosca in New York back in 2004. After that brilliant move, they had to deal with a camera swarm both in the Big Apple and back in Toronto after the trip concluded. Lots of very negative publicity.

The Jays have learned a thing or two about crisis management since (we think). Not sure about the Mariners. But four more losses is my guess, since many of you are asking. Lose the next four and it's done. If Hargrove pulls the team out of this and starts winning with some consistency, he keeps going. Don't get me wrong, winning tonight or tomorrow, then losing another three is not going to put the countdown off for any length of time. This is very serious.

The good news for the Mariners is that their chances of winning some of these next four games took a step in the right direction on the weekend thanks to some misfortune for their upcoming opponents. Seattle is not the only team in a dismal-looking AL West to have had problems these first three weeks. First, the Rangers are dealing with this news. Yes, it's only day-to-day, but the Mariners are here for just two games, so the timing is perfect for them. Maybe they'll now be able to score that missing run in one of their ninth-inning blitzkriegs.

And then, there are the A's. The annual Rich Harden medical watch has begun. There's a reason I did not pick these guys to repeat as division champions. Harden is always a question mark health-wise and Oakland's rotation does not have the depth that the Angels do, as we found out this past weekend. Oakland's offense is also almost as bad on paper as the one in Anaheim and will be as bad if Bradley stays out for any length of time.

Speaking of the A's, turns out this guy is no Moneyball fan. A "Mom and Pop" organization? Nice.

Saw that Jeff Weaver did actually speak to a writer who waited around for him nearly an hour after Sunday's game ended. Sorry, I had to catch a flight to Texas, while said writer was returning to Seattle the following day. Kudos to my media colleague, but I wasn't about to miss the plane to hang around the clubhouse after everyone else had left on a hunch that Weaver might change his mind. Starting pitchers know that when they pitch, they're expected to show up and talk afterwards. If Weaver tells a team representative he isn't going to speak, I take him at his word. If he changes his mind 45 minutes later, well, I'm not a mind reader. But that's just the thing with these Mariners. Sometimes, they show up, sometimes they don't.

Interesting to me that the debate raging since yesterday has been about whether the team's pitching or hitting is the biggest culprit. I enjoyed the comment in the previous thread likening it to those "Less Filling! Tastes Great!" ads for Miller Lite.

Here's my take: both have been woeful, but the pitching bears the slightly bigger blame.

I'm not impressed by all of these late offensive rallies. Almost like the Mariners are trying to lull their opponents to sleep before pouncing. But at least the hitters are hitting the ball hard in spots. They are making plenty of unproductive outs in others, but they do have a point in claiming to have been victimized by sharp fielding plays at times. The Angels had some of the best-positioned defenders I've seen in a three-game, regular season series. That's also a byproduct of a good team, one that should easily win this division despite all of their injuries and turmoil. They might not win it all that easily, but really, they should.

So, the Seattle offense gets the edge. Barely, but the edge.

As for the pitching, it's tough for any offense to win games when constantly trailing 4-0 or 5-0 by the fifth inning. Tough for any team to win when starters are incapable of going six innings, let alone seven. Here's a primer for the uninitiated: on contending teams, the only guys who go five innings are the fifth starters. Staff aces are expected to go seven or eight (which Felix Hernandez has done), a real No. 2 has to go seven every other outing and the Nos. 3 and 4 have to go six. And not six innings of six-run ball. We're talking six innings of allowing your team at least a halfway decent shot of being in the game. The fifth guys are supposed to be the crapshoot. Well, at least the Mariners have the No. 5 crapshoot part down, though Weaver is not even pitching up to acceptable levels in that role. This Mariners club was billed as a contender by the guys who put it together. So, that's what we'll judge them on. How do they stack up to that prototype rotation I just mentioned?

Well, at times, the Seattle rotation has seemed like an ace, a No. 3 starter, two fifth starters and the equivalent of an emergency Class AAA call-up. Yes, I'd love to keep giving them the benefit of the doubt because of all the earlier delays. I agree, all the extra time off has hurt their routines and likely impacted their mound performances. But as I mentioned way up top, this team does not have the usual amount of time to get things straightened out this early season.

Here's a different take on all the snow and rain delays. We keep talking about how much it hurt the Mariners. Well, what about how much it helped them? Would Seattle's record be any better if it had been forced to play four cold games in Cleveland and that finale in Boston? Judging by what I saw in that aborted Cleveland opener and the game in Boston not started by Hernandez, I'd have to offer up a resounding "No!''

My feeling is the Mariners are quite lucky to be only four games under .500 and two out of the division lead. They still have a chance to turn this thing around, largely due to the division's over-all mediocrity. But as we mentioned this spring, basing your optimism on the mediocrity of those around you is rarely a winning strategy.

Everything is now being magnified. Tick, tock...


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