Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.
August 11, 2008 10:16 AM
Posted by Geoff Baker
"I don't care if we are 40 games behind, we should have played better than this,'' Silva said. "For me, every game is important. For me, if we are where we are right now, we should take it one game at a time and play one day at a time. Thinking 'We've got to win this game'. And when the day is over 'We've got to win the next one.' ''
-- Carlos Silva after Friday's game
"It was a total team letdown, starting with myself right on down...We all had a real direct hand in that loss."
--Jim Riggleman after Saturday's game
"It's something that's biting us way too often.''
-- Riggleman before Sunday's game on team's lack of execution
"Today we took a step backwards. We played a real bad ballgame."
-- Riggleman after Sunday's game
Ah, aren't Monday mornings grand? For some of you who haven't figured it out, it was Larry Stone writing yesterday. I haven't been "on'' since Carlos Silva came forward to speak on Friday night. But have followed the highly-predictable aftermath of his comments with great interest. To me, it seems the biggest crime Silva committed was being a day or two ahead of his manager in his public observations. Oh yeah, and the fact that he's packing on some extra pounds. Other than that, Silva didn't voice anything that anyone following this team -- more importantly, actually watching it play -- hadn't already wondered. The hair-splitting I've seen over his "padding stats" comments is just that. Hair-splitting. Silva's message was a simple one. It's one the Mariners have been accused of since way back in April. Not bringing their "A game" day-in, day-out. They haven't. So, what's the problem?
This was a team expected to contend for the post-season. Or, for those of you who "predicted" that the offense would falter, at least a team expected to play around .500 ball. It has done neither. Why are so many so quick to let it off the hook? Silva isn't. Nor should he be. This team, the way it has played all year long, is an absolute disgrace. It is perhaps the worst team in baseball. And the reason is that so many players, individually and collectively, have failed to meet either their career or computer-projected norms. So, what's wrong with Silva noticing?
Remember "White Line Fever"? The line Bill Bavasi used to describe players who couldn't get the job done once they crossed the lines of the playing field? As Bavasi noted, there's a difference between playing hard and playing smart. You can play hard, but if you keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again, it becomes an issue of needing to play smarter. To focus on making the right plays in certain situations. On executing when the situation arises. Are the Mariners focused on playing the game right? On bringing their "A game" each and every night? I don't know how anyone watching the games can make that argument. This team has been one of baseball's worst when it comes to getting the runner home from third base with fewer than two out. Also one of the game's worst when it comes to allowing harmless looking grounders to "sneak through" the infield. At failing to make routine plays, like throwing the ball to first base after a tough snag of a grounder. Or covering the bag on a steal attempt. Or hitting the cutoff man so runners don't move up an extra base.
There have been far too many physical and mental lapses all year long. Silva is just fed up. Was he the right guy to be voicing complaints? Well, in theory, no. A guy with a 4-13 record and an ERA up near 6.00 should not have to be the one coming forward. There is a risk his message will be lost amongst the howling masses looking for any reason to discredit the substance of what he is saying. Unfortunately...acutally, fortunately for the people who need defending, when you get into journalism, it's your job to look past things like that, or issues like a pitcher's weight, or fan popularity, and get into the substance of what a guy actually says. So, Silva might have a bad record. Might not look the way some of you feel a pitcher's body ought to look. Nor be as popular as Ichiro, or Raul Ibanez, or Adrian Beltre. But that doesn't invalidate what he has to say.
When you look at it, there weren't many other potential spokesmen for the starting pitchers who could have come forward.
Felix Hernandez was standing right next to Silva, smiling as he spoke. Would the message have carried more weight had Hernandez spoken up instead of Silva? Probably, at least with some of you in the blogosphere. Though I'm not sure what difference there would be between that and Hernandez standing there as he did with Silva mentioning him directly, and then not countering anything the pitcher was saying. After all, Hernandez could have stayed in the backroom, playing ping-pong with Erik Bedard as he had the night before. Instead, he came out right when Silva did. Listened to every word he said from two feet away, as if knowing in advance what his pal was going to say. Look, I can't write the script for some of you. You have to read between the lines.
And no, Hernandez could not have spoken up. He's only 22. As well as he's pitched at times this year and as high as the ceiling is on him he's still accomplished very little in this game and only been around a short time. The way major league clubhouses work, it would not have gone over well had he opened his mouth. He would have been perceived as a snot-nosed kid acting like he was better than everyone else because he's been on a pretty good run of late.
To those of you who don't think this is fair, you may even be right. But it doesn't matter what you think when it comes to the inner-workings of the Mariners clubhouse. Anymore than it matters what I think of the food they serve in the Microsoft cafeteria. It's not your call to make. Things are done the way they are done in the majors and have always been done in the majors. And 22-year-olds, whether they are named Felix Hernandez or not, are expected to keep their mouths closed. If not, it brings them more trouble than it's worth. So, complain about it if you want. Think it dumb. But it doesn't matter. I'm just trying to tell you how things work. Hernandez could not have spoken up. That's a non-starter as an argument.
Outside of Hernandez, who else in the rotation? Jarrod Washburn perhaps. But let's fact it: he's spent the past month thinking he might get traded any day now. How bad would that look if he stands up, says something, then gets dealt? Would look like a guy acting tough without having to stick around and take the heat. Or, like a guy putting a few good months together and thinking it made him a clubhouse spokesman. I mean, some of you can't stand the thought of Washburn. Nicknamed him "The Bus" (as in "throws guys under one") because he spoke of some of the issues he had early on with Kenji Johjima -- a guy who is now the team's de facto third-string catcher BTW. Would I have advised Washburn to speak out? Heck no. And I'm not even in the PR business.
So, who then? Bedard? Please. Well, he'd have to actually pitch first. Right now, no.
R.A. Dickey? A guy whose career was done before being ressurected this season? Look, he's simply trying to hang on to a big-league job and glad to be here. Maybe next season, once he's put in some time. But not now.
Miguel Batista? He's already made some comments this year about players not toughing it out, or going on the DL too easily. Didn't go over very well with the team or most of you. And if Silva doesn't have the credibility to speak out, then Batista, not even in the rotation any more, certainly doesn't.
Which leaves Silva. A guy, who, unlike every other pitcher we've mentioned besides Hernandez, will almost certainly be here beyond 2009. Silva knew his record would be brought up when he spoke. That he was leaving himself open to criticism. That he'll have to face the music on this team for years to come. But he spoke up anyway. And in my book, that takes guts. More guts than I've seen from a lot of folks on the field this season.
Let's look at the context. Some of you think this team has upped its game of late and is playing better ball. But from what? Considering how low it had sunk, raising the bar wasn't exactly a challenge. And no, I don't think it was playing all that great in the weeks leading up to Silva's outburst. I don't think it brought its "A" game to any of the four Tampa Bay contests. Felix Hernandez brought his "A" game to the opener -- not his best stuff but his best mental focus -- and that's the only thing that kept it close. If not for that Wladimir Balentien double in the eighth, Hernandez probably takes a 1-0 loss in that game. As it is, he had to settle for a no-decision despite eight innings of one-run ball. Jarrod Washburn threw a "quality start" prior to that and took the loss to Minnesota. Then Silva allows four earned runs over six-plus innings (not Cy Young stuff but hardly a terrible result) and again fails to win because of poor offense and defense.
The common denominator in each of those outings? One serious mistake cost the pitcher a win each time. For Hernandez, it was a wild-pitch that brought home Tampa Bay's only run. For Washburn, a three-run triple by Denard Span. In Silva's case, a single he allowed after Yuniesky Betancourt's throwing error cost him two runs. If not for Betancourt, Silva probably gets a quality start and goes seven innings doing it.
But the point is, starting pitchers should not have to go out there worried about making even one bad pitch. They should not fear that an offense that fails to execute and a defense that flubs routine plays will potentially cost them each and every game. You might not care about wins. Those who employ statistical analysis might not either. But pitchers do. Believe me, they say all the right things. But do you honestly think Hernandez is thrilled with being a seven-win pitcher? Or that Washburn is content knowing he'll have yet another single-digit season in victories. Or that Silva doesn't toss and turn at night knowing he's got only one win since April?
Let's look at some excerpts of Silva's season. The guy has had nine -- count 'em, nine -- outings this year where he's gone at least six innings and allowed four earned runs or fewer without picking up the win. That's just ridiculous. Split that on even a 4-5 basis and he'd be leading this staff in wins. So, if anyone has a right to be upset about things, it's him. His ERA has been ruined by a half-dozen abbreviated outings, the most damaging being a 2/3 of an inning rout at the hands of Detroit. He'll never get that ERA down because of it and it's his fault. But he's hung in there and tried to make something of this season. Brought his "A game" each time, even if the results did not come about.
Riggleman was praising Silva's work ethic on Friday night, moments before the pitcher's outburst. Riggleman was saying the team needs more players with Silva's approach and he was bang-on. That did not change after Silva spoke.
So, why is Riggleman disappointed with Silva?
Well, like most big-league teams, the Mariners want their dirty laundry aired in-house. Want fans to keep thinking this is one happy ship steering merrily along and looking positively towards the future. Nobody likes to hear accusations from a player that teammates are merely going through the motions. Makes fans wonder why they are paying full price for tickets. Makes them wonder whether the manager, in this case, Riggleman, is as in-control of his team as he appears to be. So, there is a wall -- or code -- of silence that goes up. But every once in a while, somebody knocks it down.
Good on Riggleman for not blasting Jose Lopez in public yesterday. Especially after he'd claimed that Silva should have kept things in-house. But no, it doesn't change the substance of what Silva said. If Silva was so off-the-mark, one has to wonder why Riggleman was so quick to bench Lopez, one of the team's better producing players this season. If the team really was bringing its "A game" night in, night out, that team should be able to overlook one dropped ball.
But of course, this wasn't a one-time thing. And it's not just Lopez and Betancourt either. You can go up and down that lineup and see guys who did not start producing until mid-May, once the team was already out of it. Guys who, right now, are missing balls they should be getting to. Who are still not producing what is expected of them.
Riggleman, as I've mentioned before, is in a tough spot. Like John McLaren before him, he's been charged with getting the most out of players who've had trouble challenging themselves to do better all year. What Silva said makes Riggleman look bad. Made it look like he's running a rudderless ship. And Riggleman handled it the only way he could, for now. But it doesn't mean Silva was wrong. You don't have to like the messanger, his weight, or his won-lost record and ERA. But what he said has been so obvious to those watching this team day in, day out, that the reaction was almost like: "It's about time.''
And it's not like he named anybody. The folks who haven't been bringing it night after night know who they are and will get his message. And it isn't just Betancourt, or Lopez. But he didn't single anyone in particular out, so I'm not sure what's driving the hysterical responses I've seen in the blogosphere. From the outrage generated, you'd think this was a team headed towards 95 wins rather than 65. Have we suspended reality? Are we so protective of mediocre, or underachieving players in Seattle that we have to safeguard them even when nobody singles them out by name? I find it rather comical, to be honest.
Yeah, I'd rather Beltre said it. Or Ibanez. The fact that a 4-13 Silva had to say it is a huge indication of what's wrong with this team. It doesn't challenge itself. It's spent the entire year playing like a collection of individuals who can't win when it matters. Silva was trying to openly challenge his team to not go to sleep the final seven weeks of the season.
If that hurts, then it should. You're all fans and no fan wants to hear that about their team. But being in denial about what's gone on this year won't change the reality. These tensions between pitchers and position players -- and pitchers and pitchers and position players and position players -- have been going on all season. This isn't a situation where you plug in one guy's stats in place of another's and everything's miraculously going to be OK.
When a team underperforms its projected numbers as badly as this one's has, there are all kinds of issues going on that a calculator alone won't fix. It goes beyond a March prediciton that the offense would do poorly. This entire team has performed miserably and the reasons why are as varied as they are complex. It's Riggleman's job to try to make you not think about it the rest of the way. The Mariners will then have the winter to figure those problems out and try to make this a team that performs when it has to. They didn't need Silva to remind them of it. But they also know his words were pretty much the truth. And the truth hurts. It really does.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTS (12:46 p.m.): For Brett Miller, in the comments thread, how am I "enabling" Silva? He said what he did in front of me and a bunch of other reporters. We didn't coach him. These are his feelings, spoken by a guy, who, unlike you, is a part of the team. You might think you know more than he does about the inner workings of the Mariners, but you don't. That's a fact. Admit I'm wrong? About what? About reporting on what Silva said and saying that -- having followed this team up-close all season -- I agree with him? How is that wrong? Better yet, how would you be in a position to know?
The fact that you, or other fans, some of whom run blogs, have a problem with what he said really isn't my concern. Do you want me to tell you this season has been about "poor talent" as opposed to underachievement? That "poor talent" won 88 games last year. So, unless you're prepared to admit that the 2007 M's should have won only 65 games, this year's team is an underachiever.
You're still stuck in the "I was right" and "you were wrong" mode. That's for kids. Those of us paid to figure out what's wrong with this team and actually talk to people who are a part of it -- both on and off the record -- have moved on and been trying for months to tell you that this whole season's failures run deeper than a non-producing first baseman or right fielder. It's a collective inability to rise to the occasion when it matters.
As far as this blog, we're pretty happy with the reader response and how we've raised the level of debate over the past two years. If some blogs think they have the answer, or know more about the Mariners than we do, they can state their case. It's a free country. Anyone can throw their opinion up on the internet. That's what makes this country great. If you want to cling to the notion that this is all about numbers and pre-season projections, you can do so. You can come on here and make the claim and your comment will get posted.
But please. Just know this one thing: Silva's comments may have surprised some folks in the blogosphere. But they were not much of a surprise to me, or plenty of others who have been around this team for any length of time. If that offends you for some reason, or you resent me trying to share that information (as opposed to concealing it from the public because it might hurt the team), then I can't help you. This isn't about coming up with a theory and sticking to it in spite of all evidence to the contrary. It's about opening your mind, watching the games and listening to people who have greater insight into a situation than you do.
That's what I've tried to do. It's what most of my media colleagues have tried to do here all season. We're not still hung-up on who predicted what in March. We've moved on. We're tackling the big stuff now. It's not part of a mass conspiracy against you or blogs. It's about trying to tell you stuff you may or may not already know.