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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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July 26, 2007 1:22 PM

Urgent action needed

Posted by Geoff Baker

*****NEW BLOG COMING (9:05 a.m.): To those who've asked, no there aren't any technical problems. Just dealing with an out of town guest. Will be updating the blog shortly, having watched last night's game on the tube. Thanks to all for being patient!**********

Good to be home again after only a few hours of sleep and an early flight out from Dallas, through Houston, to arrive in a city once again perplexed by the state of its baseball team. I have to admit that I never imagined the Mariners could do this twice to their fans in one season. Have the entire town riveted by their playoff prospects one week and then demoralized less than a week later.

We saw that happen in June when the M's captured that 13-inning thriller at Wrigley Field, then failed to win another game until a week later when they beat the Pirates at home. Here we are again, the Mariners having bested the Toronto Blue Jays, 4-2, only six days ago to move within a game of the first-place Los Angeles Angels. I asked at the time whether we'd be talking about the first-place Mariners right about now. Hardly. The only reason the M's are not five or six games back is because of the equal ineptitude the Angels have displayed.

Well, not quite equal. Los Angeles still picked up 2 1/2 games on the Mariners. That's not too shabby for a struggling team in less than a week of work. So, can the Mariners once again overcome the setback this third six-game losing streak of the season has presented? I honestly don't know.

There are differences now. Yes, the M's are closer in the standings than they were after that six-game streak in June. But they are also about to enter the month of August. It isn't June any more. Teams this streaky usually don't make it to the post-season. The prime objective, moving forward, has to be to end the streak tonight. Lose any more ground to the Angels and it's going to be an uphill climb the rest of the way.

Plenty of you are smirking, remembering how the Mariners whittled an eight-game disadvantage down to just that one game in less than a month. But the thing to remember is, they never caught up. Sure, it was only a one-game disadvantage, only last Friday that they were faced with that. But one game is still a gap. It's enough for the Angels to go to the playoffs and the M's to sit home. Seattle never caught up to the Angels after allowing the gap to get too wide the last time.

They now find themselves at 3 1/2 back with two months left. The same 3 1/2 gap between the teams that's existed a good part of the season. While so much seems to change from week to week, in a way, very little actually has. The Angels were rocked by a potentially season-defining series of setbacks at a time when the Mariners seemingly couldn't lose. Because of it, the freakish and coincidental timing of it all, the M's were able to make up a lot of ground very quickly. Unusually quickly, much like the New York Yankees have managed to do on Seattle.

Everyone likes to use the line about a five-game gap being "nothing'' because "all you have to do is win five in a row when your opponent loses five in a row''. Right? Sounds easy, doesn't it? Only it isn't quite so simple. The odds against the timing of both events being so bang-on is highly remote. Just flip back through the pages of baseball history for proof. The M's have already had their one boost of incredible timing this season. Are they due for another? Highly unlikely. More likely than not, the rest of the season will amount to a series of weeks where one team picks up a game or two, then gives some ground back.

Head-to-head matchups will be crucial, starting next week. But for them to mean anything, the M's will have to stem the tide now. Let the gap hit five games by the time the Angels come to town and the impact of having those head-to-head contests will be muted. So, what is the team to do?

As Jarrod Washburn correctly said the other night, the team can't afford many more of these losing stretches. I'll forward that. This team can't afford any more of these losing stretches without fatally damaging its playoff shot.

To reduce the chances of another losing streak, assuming this one ends tonight, the team must get better. GM Bill Bavasi knows this and that's why his scouts are blanketing the continent, trying to get in on any deals to be had. He has to. This season and potentially his legacy in Seattle are riding on his ability to make mid-season improvements.

My shopping list?

Another starting pitcher: I'd trade Adam Jones for Dontrelle Willis straight up if the offer is out there. If Bavasi can get Willis for Jeff Clement or Wladimir Balentien, I'd do it five seconds ago. I suspect that offer's not out there or Bavasi would have pulled the trigger. You have to give up something to get it in the baseball world and the fact remains that Willis is only two years removed from what should have been a Cy Young Award season. He still has two full years left before becoming eligible for free-agency and is not a rent-a-pitcher. He's left handed, with enough upside that, if his problems can be turned around through a shift in mechanics, he, Felix Hernandez and maybe Brandon Morrow can give you a potential Big Three in the AL West. This team already has Ichiro locked up for the next five years. Yes, the prospect of him and Jones sharing the outfield is enticing, but this division has been all about starting pitching for years. Ichiro is the bat this offense has been built around. The rotation needs to get better. If Willis isn't available, then keep Jones as an added offensive luxury and use your other trade chits to get a rent-a-starter if you have to. Any of the names we've heard, Livan Hernandez, Matt Morris, Jon Garland, or Jose Contreras, stand to be an improvement over what we've seen on many a night.

To compete this year, another starter seems a must, whether it's a top-of-the-rotation arm, middle, or back. Anything that gives you more than you have now.

An eighth inning set-up man: I'm tired of reading about how this isn't a need. The M's don't seem to know what to do to bridge the gap to J.J. Putz. They keep sending Chris Reitsma out in the eighth and opponents hit .300 off him. Maybe he is the answer, but now is the time to show it. Perhaps this team doesn't need to deal for the proven, pricier types of arms I've mentioned before. OK, I'll buy that. Then show me the alternative. Is it Sean Green? Then, you've got to use him in that role. Same with George Sherrill. If he's more than a situational lefty, let's find out in high leverage situations. Is it Mark Lowe? Does this team have the time to find that out? Is it somebody down in Class AAA, either awaiting trial or not awaiting trial? If so, call them up and find out. This whole mix-and-match business is truly perplexing. This is a potentially dominant playoff bullpen with one glaring role still unresolved. It isn't enough to declare Reitsma the setup man. You've got to use him on back-to-back days, show he can have a 1-2-3 inning with some regularity. Otherwise, it's all just talk. And that's what pretenders do. They talk.

The offense? Yes, it's streaky. That and a so-so rotation is why this team is on its third six-game losing streak. How many playoff teams go through three in one year? I don't know. One day, I'll count it up for comparison. But for now, we'll assume it's a lot. That streakiness at the plate may never change. But the time has come for the team to start using the means at its disposal to try to get better. Why is Adam Jones still in Class AAA. Is he this team's savior? Most likely not. But he can potentially make the team better. Where is it written that Raul Ibanez gets to keep getting penciled in to the No. 3 spot in the order? Yes, Ibanez has had a good couple of games. It's time to keep the pressure on to make sure it lasts longer than those two games. A few weeks ago, I would have written off Jose Vidro. Now, he is hitting very consistently, with more power added in. If a player does that, I have no problem keeping him in the lineup. Or even batting him fifth as John McLaren did last night. Nothing wrong with putting your most consistent (of late) hitter in an RBI spot.

But for too long on this team, too many veterans on this team have been guaranteed at-bats and favored spots in the order without seemingly having to earn them. This isn't about past performance any more. It's about putting the best lineup out there to help make sure a rare playoff shot doesn't slip through your fingers. It's one thing to allow one veteran to play his way through a slump. But this team is now doing it with Richie Sexson, Ibanez and Kenji Johjima simultaneously. Up until a few weeks ago, Vidro was on that list. Whether it's via a trade (we keep hearing Dimitri Young's name mentioned), or making some call-ups, or using more platoons, this lineup has to become more fluid. Why it is so carved in stone is a mystery to all of baseball outside the M's front office. And they're not talking. That's fine. But the plan isn't working. The M's are only still in this thing because the Angels are just as messed up as they are right now. Want to count on that continuing, or take matters into your own hands? Time to adapt on-the-fly and make some changes.

Can the M's overcome this six-game losing streak? Yes, they can. They've already done so twice this season. The big question is whether that will be enough. I say it won't be unless they address at least two of the three areas I've mentioned above. And quickly. In some ways, this losing streak might be a good thing in that it's underscored to management that change is needed. This is now a day-to-day situation. If this gap with the Angels hits five games, well...you all know what I think about that.


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