The Litmus Test

Dave · June 26, 2009 at 9:52 am · Filed Under Mariners 

So, as you’ve probably heard once or ten thousand times, the M’s upcoming road trip is going to be a challenge. The Dodgers sport the best record in baseball, and if they aren’t the best team in baseball, then that honor probably belongs to the Red Sox or Yankees, who we just happen to play after we finish up this weekend. You won’t be seeing Josh Geer or Wade LeBlanc anymore.

It sounds like hyperbole, but this road trip, followed by a seven game homestand that finishes with four games against Texas before the All-Star break, will essentially determine the rest of the M’s season. They play 16 games in 17 days against four teams who would make the playoffs if the season ended today, and they have to fly across the country a couple of times in order to do it. This isn’t just the hardest stretch of schedule for the M’s – this is about as tough of a 2 1/2 weeks of baseball as you could possibly have to play.

So, the M’s did well to load up on wins against San Diego and Arizona, as they’re about to get much tougher to come by. Realistically, 8-8 would be a huge accomplishment and send the team into the all-star break at 45-43, presumably still without shouting distance of the lead in the A.L. West. At that point, if Bedard actually has made a couple of starts without breaking down again and the team had just finished holding their own against the best teams in baseball, Zduriencik would have some reason to try to add pieces to help this team win this year. Anything better than 8-8 (assuming that LA/Texas don’t go nuts over the same stretch) will make it very easy for the M’s to keep the roster intact and make a run at it this year.

However, we also have to acknowledge that there’s a real chance that the M’s just get their butts handed to them between now and then. Honestly, 4-12 or something wouldn’t shock me. They could easily get steamrolled by this stretch of schedule. This isn’t the kind of pitching staff that you want to throw at Boston or New York on the road – the flyball oriented nature of most of these guys means we could see a lot of home runs allowed on the road trip, and the M’s don’t have the offense to play big ball with those boys.

Really, over the next couple of weeks, we have to change our expectations of what success is. If they can win as many as they lose, the team should have a party. This is one of those times where you just try to survive.

Comments

31 Responses to “The Litmus Test”

  1. Jim_H on June 26th, 2009 9:58 am

    8-8 would be a terrific result here indeed, especially hearing the news (via LaRue) that Beltre’s shoulder is worse now than it was before he has surgery last year, and is indicating he’d like to get it fixed sooner than later.

  2. wfan99 on June 26th, 2009 10:26 am

    Anyone going to the 1st 2 games of the Yankee trip….it would be cool be meet some local fans of the M’s?

  3. Evan on June 26th, 2009 10:26 am

    8-8 would be terrific. I’d say a reasonable expectation is probably 5 wins.

  4. fiftyone on June 26th, 2009 10:33 am

    I like what Washburn said yesterday when asked the semi-reasonable question of what he expects on the road trip: “Nine close games.”

    If my M’s can give me 9 nailbiters, not fall on their face against the O’s, and then win the Texas series, that is success. Even if it results in a 7-9 mark.

  5. mln on June 26th, 2009 10:41 am

    Is the man who would be King ready to assume his throne?

    Mature King Felix ready to reign
    http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/columns/story?columnist=caple_jim&id=4288037

  6. diderot on June 26th, 2009 10:48 am

    …Zduriencik would have some reason to try to add pieces to help this team win this year

    I really want to say that before we started looking outside, we would try to add strength from Tacoma.

    But the places where we really need help (MIF, C, maybe 3b now) really don’t match the strengths of the Rainiers. In some ways, maybe the most frustrating injury of the year is Tui’s. I’d really like to have seen how he developed with a Triple A season.

  7. kenshabby on June 26th, 2009 10:50 am

    So we should see Felix thrice and Bedard twice during this 16-game stretch. Though its small dimensions may help our hitters too, I’ve a bad feeling about playing at the new Yankee Stadium; I expect scores like 11-8 and 12-6 (not in our favor).

    I’m betting we arrive at the AS break 44-44 (± 1).

  8. smb on June 26th, 2009 10:51 am

    Caple is such a homer…but I’ll take it. Lifetime contracts for Felix and Ichiro!

    I would love nothing more than to see us steamroll through Boston and New York like US over Spain, albeit probably just as inexplicably. Granted we’d probably get swept by the O’s if that’s the case, but like Dave said, .500 would give us legit cause to party!

  9. edclayton on June 26th, 2009 11:30 am

    If Beltre is out, would we consider playing Branyan at 3B and Carp at 1B, or are there better answers down in Tacoma?

  10. DKJ on June 26th, 2009 11:38 am

    Anyone have the time (many of you have the expertise) to analyze the chances on a game-by-game pitching matchup basis?

  11. brian_sun on June 26th, 2009 12:02 pm

    Speaking of the Orioles, what the heck has happened to Adam Jones? In June, he is hitting .203/.256/.278=.534 OPS in 79 AB. Overall, he still has a .864 OPS this season, but he was at 1.060+ not too long ago. His WAR dropped to 1.4 now, below Franklin Gutierrez at 1.7. Fangraph says Franklin G is a more valuable player than Adam Jones this year, unbelievable.

  12. jjracoon on June 26th, 2009 12:25 pm

    If Beltre is out for an extended period, why cant Woodward play the position. He seems extremely solid on defense and brings the patience at the plate needed on this team????

  13. GarForever on June 26th, 2009 12:25 pm

    Brian_sun:

    Just a guess here, because I’ve only had a chance to look at the game log and not the career splits yet, but I wonder if Jones was facing a lot of pitchers he hadn’t seen much of before (the worst part of his June swoon seems to have come against the NL East). I don’t have time to explore this right now, so if someone else wants to pick up the ball, great. On the other hand, I’d always figured Jones for about a ~.870 OPS guy until his late 20s, when added power and plate discipline might give him another ~.050 to ~.080 increase, so maybe this is just him leveling off after a hot April and May.

    FWIW…

  14. JMHawkins on June 26th, 2009 12:26 pm

    If Beltre is out, would we consider playing Branyan at 3B and Carp at 1B, or are there better answers down in Tacoma?

    I would assume if Beltre and Betancourt are both out that it would be Woodward and Cedeno.

    Woodward at 3B: -10 runs at the plate, + 10 runs Glove = even overall

    Carp: +5 runs at the plate
    Branyan: -15 runs with glove at 3B
    = -10 runs overall (assume Carp/Branyan wash defensively at 1B).

    Better off with Woodward playing instead of Carp.

  15. joser on June 26th, 2009 12:32 pm

    Regarding AJ — this from the fantasy analysis side of Fangraphs a week ago but it’s incisive all the same:

    But he also has a .372 BABIP and a 21.8 percent HR/FB rate, neither of which are likely to last. One of the hidden keys to Jones’ success this year has been the elimination of infield popups. Last year he had an IFFB% of 14.5 and in two previous partial seasons it was 17.6 and 13.3 percent. This year his mark checks in at 1.8 percent. Since infield flies result in an out nearly 100 percent of the time, this is a significant improvement for Jones. But it is another mark likely to regress going forward.

    In other words, as good as he is he was also getting some lucky breaks that made him look otherworldly. His BABiP has since dropped to .345, and ZIPS projects him to end up around .337 (which means he’s actually been rather unlucky lately to pull his average down that far that fast). The gods of chance are fickle things.

  16. jjracoon on June 26th, 2009 12:32 pm

    The reason everyone loves Adam Jones is they see an offensive star but he has yet to prove that he is even in the same group as Gutierrez defensively. I think there is more chance of Gutierrez becoming an offensive threat than Jones ever approaching Gutierrez defensively. I see so many comparisons to Mike Cameron when I watch Gutierrez but think while he might be a tad better defensively, has yet to realize how good he could be offensively.

  17. Soonerman22 on June 26th, 2009 12:39 pm

    I was hoping for 9-7, but who knows.

    I think buy or sell talk has to wait till after the road trip if not till the All-Star brake. And even then we have to see who is healthy, who isn’t what the status is with RRS.

    This is way, WAY more fun then last year though! The fact that we are even talking about this stuff as opposed to counting the days till Seahawks training camp.

  18. wabbles on June 26th, 2009 12:41 pm

    Repeating my 1993 mantra here, I looked up the M’s wins and losses that year. They never lost more than five games in a row (gotta love a stopper like Randy Johnson) and we were never more than 4-5 games above or below .500. We’ve done pretty much the same thing this year. So yeah, 8-8 would be terrific and keep us on track for at least .500. Realistically, we’ll probably have to beat up on the sub .500 teams after this stretch is over to get back to .500.

  19. joser on June 26th, 2009 12:55 pm

    Woodward doesn’t have significant platoon splits, but Carp does (at least based on his Tacoma numbers, which are just ~200 total ABs). I have argued against the “Branyan at 3B” idea in the past but… these are difficult times. So against a RH starter with a weakness facing lefties, it might make sense to put Branyan at 3rd and Carp at 1B and bring Woodward in as a defensive replacement once the other team has gone to its bullpen. It does get one more LH bat with some pop into the lineup. Of course you’re giving up defense at the hot corner, but with the flyball pitchers on the M’s staff it might not matter — Branyan will mostly be looking up and hoping it finds Balentien’s or Gutierrez’ glove. But I wouldn’t consider this when Felix is on the mound (he’s more flyball-oriented than he used to be, alas, but he still relies on the infield defense more than anybody else).

    They’re facing LHP Kershaw tonight, and Felix pitches tomorrow, so the Sunday game against Kuroda might be the first real opportunity to put this theory into practice. Kuroda shows a slight weakness against LH bats, and Sunday is the traditional “rest the regulars” day anyway, so Wakamatsu might entertain the idea. (Hopefully Branyan takes some grounders at third in BP today and/or tomorrow if Wakamatsu really is contemplating this).

  20. Captain Lars on June 26th, 2009 2:36 pm

    One of my biggest beefs with Bavasi was that he couldn’t tell what kind of team he had. After winning 88 games in 2007 with a -19 run differential he somehow concluded we were contenders and sold the farm for Bedard because he thought he (and Silva) were all we needed to get over the top. The 2007 team was structurally flawed and the 2008 crash proved it. Now I’m enjoying being two games over .500 as much as anyone, and I realize it’s near impossible to pull the plug on a team that has the appearance of being in contention, but this team has too many flaws to seriously contend this season and our current -15 run differential is a good indicator. Even if we should happen to somehow prevail in the weak AL West, we don’t have the talent to go anywhere in the playoffs. Even acquiring another bat at the trade deadline isn’t going to be enough to give us a legitimate shot at getting beyond the first round. Our pitching has been great but our starting rotation has been cobbled together with baling wire and duct tape (Morrow , Vargas, Olsen, Jakubauskas and sore armed Bedard). How long can it go without imploding? With the bullpen on the verge of overuse, Beltre’s shoulder and unreliable and unpredictable production at the plate for too many players (C, DH, LF, 3B, SS and 2B) I don’t see how we can realistically expect to contend this year. I like the progress we’ve made and think we’re on the right track, but let’s not trade away talent now that might give us a legitimate shot down the road or fail to pull the trigger on a trade that could net us some solid young player just to chase a shot at the playoffs this year. Current record notwithstanding, we’re really not good enough yet to make an honest run.

  21. jld on June 26th, 2009 2:41 pm

    Being that a many people here thought the Mariners would be well to do .500 over the entire season, .500 against 4 of the top 5 teams of all of baseball would be unbelievable.

    I’ll bet on 5-11 or 6-10.

  22. Adam S on June 26th, 2009 2:47 pm

    Even if we should happen to somehow prevail in the weak AL West, we don’t have the talent to go anywhere in the playoffs

    This just isn’t true, though I concur with not “going for it”. Playoffs are a crapshoot because of the short series. And if the M’s stay healthy enough to make the playoffs, they have a good playoff team with King Felix and Bedard heading up the rotation plus a shortened bullpen.

  23. JMHawkins on June 26th, 2009 2:53 pm

    Even if we should happen to somehow prevail in the weak AL West, we don’t have the talent to go anywhere in the playoffs…

    Assume the M’s go 8-8 over this road trip and pass the litmus test Dave set out. That means they played .500 ball over 16 games against playoff-caliber opponents. The ALDS+ALCS is a max of 12 games. A team that can play .500 ball for 16 games against playoff-calber opponents can make it to the world series.

    If the M’s go 8-8 on this road trip, they’ve proven they do indeed have the talent to go somewhere in the playoffs.

    Can they go 8-8? Well, you outlined a whole bunch of obstacles they have to winning against good teams. On the optimistic side, well, there’s:

    Felix: has the potential to dominate a game against any lineup. Will he achieve it?

    Bedard: if healthy, one of the best lefties in the league.

    Branyan: Apparently a man on a mission to disprove Regression to the Mean. Is this the Real Russel Branyan?

    Gutierrez: Right now he’s Mike Cameron Light, but shows some potential to be Mike Cameron, Standard Issue (Prime of Career).

    Ichiro!: always a reason to be optimistic about Ichiro.

    Still, they could easily go 4-12 and prove they are not really contenders this year. So, I think Dave posed the right test. This road trip, when they’re a bit banged up and fielding several offensive black holes, is what will decide if they’re contending or rebuilding.

  24. CCW on June 26th, 2009 3:03 pm

    I see so many comparisons to Mike Cameron when I watch Gutierrez but think while he might be a tad better defensively, has yet to realize how good he could be offensively.

    Cameron in his prime was about as good as it gets defensively in center field. Literally, he was one of the best of all time. Guti might be as good as Cammy, but he isn’t better.

  25. bilbo27 on June 26th, 2009 3:44 pm

    “we don’t have the talent to go anywhere in the playoffs”

    Playoffs are pretty much a crap shoot. Even the worst team in baseball, if they were let into the playoffs, has a fighting chance to win the world series. Granted, the odds aren’t in their favor in that scenario, but they do have a shot. A slightly above .500 team going against say a 25 game over .500 team isn’t that far off a 50/50 split on who will win statistically in a short series. And of course given Felix and Bedard potentially pitching most of the games, at least the M’s would probably be able to keep it close either way.

  26. djw on June 26th, 2009 3:51 pm

    If we start with the assumption that every team in the playoffs has 12.5% chance of winning the WS, and then make adjustments to those odds based on overall quality, roster construction suitability for the playoffs, and home field advantage, I’d be pretty surprised if the odds were any better than 15-17% for the best teams, and 8-10% for the worst. Not a complete “crapshoot” but close enough.

  27. Mike Barton on June 26th, 2009 4:59 pm

    I would assume if Beltre and Betancourt are both out that it would be Woodward and Cedeno.

    Woodward at 3B: -10 runs at the plate, + 10 runs Glove = even overall

    Carp: +5 runs at the plate
    Branyan: -15 runs with glove at 3B
    = -10 runs overall (assume Carp/Branyan wash defensively at 1B).

    Better off with Woodward playing instead of Carp.

    Unless I’m mistaken, this needs to take into account that Branyan’s offensive production is further above average for a third baseman than it is for a first baseman, though how many runs that is exactly I don’t know. In general the numbers here seem approximate enough that it’s hard for them to really be the last word in the matter. For example +5 runs offensively at first seems like a lot to ask of Carp, and in general I’d be a little wary of calling a AAAA utility guy a league average third baseman. Also I think 15 runs below average with the glove at third is a smidge pessimistic for Branyan, he has a career UZR/150 at third base of -6.9, and his numbers don’t have a clear downward trend as he’s gotten older. Of course that’s based on a fairly small sample size of 247 games (30 of which he didn’t start), but I think a somewhat conservative guess for him would still be 10 runs below.

  28. jjracoon on June 26th, 2009 6:03 pm

    Does Cedenos defense show any improvement over Betancourt at shortstop to offset the loss with
    Branyan at 3rd??

    I realize Cameron was incredible at making plays that others seemed not able to make and I was one of those who hated the Mariners for letting him go but Gutierrez so often surprises me with how easy he makes what looked like a tough play become a routine out. Offensively there seems to be something special in his swing as when he meets the ball for homeruns they match the Rodriguez or in my day Jim Rice type line drive propulsion!

  29. JMHawkins on June 26th, 2009 9:39 pm

    Unless I’m mistaken, this needs to take into account that Branyan’s offensive production is further above average for a third baseman than it is for a first baseman,

    Nope. Branyan’s still in the lineup regardless and his bat doesn’t get better or worse if he moves to 3B. The offensive difference is trading Carp’s bat for Woodwards. Woodward is

    Also I think 15 runs below average with the glove at third is a smidge pessimistic for Branyan, he has a career UZR/150 at third base of -6.9, and his numbers don’t have a clear downward trend as he’s gotten older.

    Hmmm, you’re right. I mis-read his 2007 UZR numbers.

  30. joser on June 28th, 2009 11:56 am

    Well, literally speaking a litmus test determines whether something is an acid or a base. You can do the same thing with your mouth (for mild, non-poisonous acids and bases, of course). Unfortunately, despite the win last night, the news about Beltre now leaves me both sour and bitter.

  31. The Ancient Mariner on July 13th, 2009 8:00 am

    Well, just to note for posterity: we went 9-7 over that 16-game stretch; we won the road trip 5-4 (taking the series against the Dodgers and Red Sox and going 1-2 in Yankee Stadium) and went 4-3 on the homestand, including taking the series with the Rangers 3-1. Unfortunately, while we were beating up on the Rangers, the Angels swept the Yanks in NY, so we’re 4 back of them, 1.5 back of Texas. Still, 46-42′s looking pretty good. Now if Jack Z can just find us a shortstop . . .

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.