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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 14, 2008 8:19 AM

Monday blues

Posted by Geoff Baker

I see cliff diving has regained popularity with some of you after a couple of days' worth of hiatus. Certainly, there is some angst while awaiting the results of Erik Bedard's hip injury. From what I'm hearing, this isn't season-ending stuff. That would be catastrophic to this team's playoff hopes, no doubt. But for now, it is not that severe. So, let's see what transpires and take things from there.

For couger, in the comments thread, No. 1, learn how to spell cougar. No. 2, if you think you're going to get someone to cry "uncle'' on a contender's expected playoff hopes two weeks into a 26-week season, you're best off going back to watching football. In baseball, one week is a mere blip on the radar screen. I saw it written on one blog that things could not have gone much worse for the M's the first two weeks of the season.

Au contraire, mes amis. As bad as things have looked for the M's at times, they could be far worse. The M's could have lost three of the first four series, rather than winning three of four, and found themselves with a record of 3-10 instead of 6-7. They could be five games out of first place instead of two. Carlos Silva could have been a major bust instead of pitching the way Bedard was supposed to for this team.

It's not eternal optimism, it's just reality. Even if you really thought the Oakland A's were going to run away with this division, a two-game deficit with 24 weeks to go is hardly insurmountable. So, first things first. The M's will take care of some bullpen housekeeping tonight by adding R.A. Dickey to the club. In return, Eric O'Flaherty will be sent down to Class AAA Tacoma. Not everyday a team bails on its once-designated situational lefty two weeks into a season, but O'Flaherty has options left and this is the right move to make at this stage.

Dickey can handle lefties and righties with his knuckleball. O'Flaherty can't handle either right now. Some of you keep asking why John McLaren left him out there for so long yesterday. The answer is twofold. The game was already pretty much over after O'Flaherty and Cha Seung Baek gave up those fifth-inning runs. Yes, it was only 4-0, but the M's were showing zero spark offensively. They didn't get anything going until they were down 7-0 and at that point, the runs they put up were meaningless. The odds against a comeback were astronomical.

Back to O'Flaherty, though. Thing is, it's his job, as the second lefthander, to go more than just a few batters. The team's other long man, Baek, had started the game. What you don't do as a manager, with your team already down 4-0, is burn a string of relief pitchers instead of sticking to your second long guy. Especially when you've gone with only an 11-man pitching staff despite a slew of injuries (good thing the M's kept that extra bench player, insn't it? Who could have seen this coming?). Somebody had to suck up the innings this time and the job went to O'Flaherty. The second aspect of keeping O'Flaherty out there was hoping -- praying? -- he found an answer. But if you're the manager, and you know O'Flaherty's performance just bought him a ticket to Tacoma, why not leave him out there to take a pounding and save some of your bullpen? If his psyche is so delicate that he'll never recover, then O'Flaherty won't be in the big leagues very long. My guess is he'll survive his latest shellacking and live to fight another day.

But someone had to pick the innings up. What a dumb manager would do is manage this 4-0 game as if a World Series were on-the-line on April 13. Then, he would head into this two-game set with the Kansas City Royals -- a series the M's should at least split -- with a gassed bullpen and a chance of being swept. That's what a bad manager would have done. So, yes, in essence, McLaren more or less sacrificed this one game, one the odds said his team was destined to lose, by pitching someone whose job it is to pitch in those situations and not bailing on him at the first sign of trouble.

It had the impact of losing the battle while saving enough troops to win the long-term war. Don't kid yourselves. You cannot manage a bullpen the same way you normally would when so many key guys are missing from it. You do have to conserve arms for when they are truly needed. Not to mop up a 4-0 game in which your offense has gone AWOL.

The lack of perspective by some of you is truly intriguing. I can understand the angst over Bedard. Yes, I will admit the team's playoff chances without him will take a severe hit. But no one has said his season is done just yet. No one, as far as I can tell, is even hinting at it.

One week ago, the M's were being swept by the Orioles. They have since gone 4-2, taking a series on the road and another at home against a team they have to beat this year. Seattle has already notched a third of its 2007 win total against the Angels. But because they did not go 5-1, everyone is abandoning ship. Very interesting indeed.

The things that are keeping me from ripping into this team right now are, in no particular order:

1. An offense that scored 16 runs the first two games of the Angels series. All of you Pythagorean fans, the team's run differential has improved, albeit with a teeny sample size. But remember, the offense was the biggest problem a week ago. It has shown signs of coming around. Yes, it will be inconsistent. It will not score eight runs per game all year. That's where the pitching is supposed to come in and save the day.

2. The M's have won three of their first four series. As I said, it's very tough to do that and still have a losing record. Not when the series are at least three games long. I don't have the time to do a big historical check on the odds of this happening, but it did not occur last year. The Cleveland Indians nearly had it happen to them at the start of last season, but won their 13th game to go to 7-6. Anyone noticed the Indians are 5-7 to start this year? The model franchise every baseball club has to be fashioned after? Yes, there are a lot of teams around the game having problems with injuries and underperformance so far. Two weeks into a season is not the time to panic.

3. Carlos Silva has been everything this team hoped for and more.

4. Seattle is hanging in there despite its closer being hurt, its situational lefty imploding and its late-inning righty also being hurt. With the offense being invisible in the middle of the order for the first week and a half. With its supposed "ace'' pitcher now having been scratched from two starts.

So, no. This isn't even close to being the worst start possible by the Mariners. Yes, there are some areas for concern. But this is hardly the recipe to abandon ship. When will that time come? Not for a long while. It intrigues me that our blog numbers seem to jump when the team loses, but steadily decrease when the team wins. Not sure what to make of that. Any ideas?

There are 24 more of these weeks to go. If you find this tone condescending already, some of you aren't going to make it past Week 3. Take a chill pill, deep breathe and see if your team can make it back to .500 by tonight. Eleven of the 14 American League teams are within two games of .500 at the moment. The M's are not unique in that regard. Try to keep what's happened in perspective and let's see what other moves are made in addition to Dickey/O'Flaherty.


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