This Feels Like a Turning Point

Dave · August 21, 2012 at 9:55 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

I don’t want to make too much out of one win, at home, against a bad Cleveland team. Especially with Felix on the hill, this is a game they win most of the time.

Still, this feels like a potential turning point for the relationship between the Mariners and the fan base. The Mariners got 39,000 people into Safeco on a Tuesday night against the Indians, and they gave those folks who don’t usually come to the park a reason to come back. This is the Mariners second seven game winning streak of the month, and they now have a reasonable chance at finishing the season around .500.

You don’t always have to be great to get the fans back – you just have to offer them some real hope. The Pirates have been baseball’s worst franchise for the last 20 years, but last year, they offered Pittsburgh some hope by staying in the race longer than usual, and their attendance went up by 300,000 fans even though they finished the year 72-90. Now that they’re showing that they can put a legitimately competitive team on the field, they’re going to add another 100,000+ this year. The Orioles are giving their fans a good product again, and even though they won’t win the AL East and might not make the playoffs, they’re still up 250,000 fans already, and will probably end the year with a 300,000+ attendance gain.

Long droughts without a competitive team drive away fan interest, but they don’t kill it. The flame smolders, waiting for something to blow on it and give them a reason to care about their baseball team again. Felix gave them a reason to care last Thursday, and they responded by coming out to the ballpark. If the team keeps winning, they’ll keep coming.

No, they’re not going to get 40,000 every Tuesday night, but this team is in the process of breaking off the negative cloud that has hovered over this franchise for the better part of the last decade. Even when Junior returned and the 2009 team played unexpectedly good baseball, it was still an older roster that needed a lot of things to go right in order to finish over .500.

As we talked about this morning, a lot of stuff has gone wrong for this team, and they’re still playing pretty good baseball. There are legitimate reasons to think that Jesus Montero is going to get better. That Dustin Ackley is going to get better. The organization’s five best prospects – all five are likely top 100 prospects in baseball – are all in Double-A or Triple-A, and each one could conceivably spend time in the big leagues in 2013. This is a young team with a wave of talent coming, and they’re already giving the fans some reason for hope.

They won’t keep winning 14 out of every 15 home games, but if they can finish the season anywhere close to .500, if they can get some progress out of Ackley and Montero, if they can point to what Zunino is doing in his professional debut in Double-A, if they can continue to establish John Jaso as a legitimate offensive threat… all of the sudden, this is a team worth paying attention to.

And just like there’s a death spiral that comes from bad teams cutting payroll and driving fans further away, teams can and do get their fans back. Seattle is willing to support the Mariners if they put an entertaining product on the field. This city wants to be a baseball town again. If they keep playing like this, it might not take as long as everyone thinks.

2013 might be too soon to expect everything to come together, but the Nationals were supposed to be a year away from contending this year, and they currently have the best record in baseball. No, the Mariners don’t have Strasburg and Harper, but they have pieces in place, and they have pieces coming, and they have a fan base that is ready to come back to Safeco Field if the team gives them a reason to show up.

We got our hopes up a few years ago and the whole thing crashed and burned, so you shouldn’t start printing 2013 playoff tickets just yet. But, when you watch this team play right now, and you see 40,000 people at Safeco, and you see Felix on the mound, you should realize that this team isn’t that far away from getting the city back on their side.

Comments

48 Responses to “This Feels Like a Turning Point”

  1. nwade on August 21st, 2012 10:04 pm

    One niggling correction: “the 2010 team played unexpectedly good baseball” should read “the 2009 team”, no? Otherwise, Amen Brother! Felix was nowhere near as dominant (and the defense let him down a bit tonight), yet the M’s still put together a fun (winning) baseball game. Signs of progress… let’s hope!

  2. Diehard on August 21st, 2012 10:07 pm

    I felt the same way watching tonight, the fans, the chanting, the Mariners playing well, it felt like ten years ago all over again. I have missed this SO much and after years of faithfully following a terrible team I finally see what Jack Z has been talking about. He still needs to get more bats this offseason and the next wave needs to pan out but man, I am ready to believe again and hope this is the turning point we can all point back to down the road.

  3. aj2013WS on August 21st, 2012 10:09 pm

    Gutierrez two home runs tonight!

  4. Westside guy on August 21st, 2012 10:10 pm

    Right now the big thing, as you pointed out, is hope for the future. The team has the town believing that the rebuilding process may actually bear fruit – and sooner rather than later. Okay, you could poke a few holes into that if you look too closely, but the bottom line is: We’ve got kids just coming into their own, and they’re already showing they can win ballgames.

  5. Klatz on August 21st, 2012 10:23 pm

    Other good signs:

    Ackley’s strikeout rate has been decreasing since May, although he’s not been walking much in August.

    Saunders, after a horrid August, has come back to life.

    If I weren’t a 1000 miles away I would have gone to the game tonight.

  6. WalterNeff on August 21st, 2012 10:24 pm

    I’m sitting in a bar with my shirt and sign – thrilling gane

  7. Sowulo on August 21st, 2012 10:31 pm

    If I wasn’t 7000 miles away, I would have gone to tonight’s game…..

    But I didn’t miss seeing it thanks to MLB.com

  8. Breadbaker on August 21st, 2012 10:36 pm

    It was about as fun as I can remember since 2003, frankly, tonight. The important thing is not so much 39,000 fans, but 39,000 Mariners fans. Fans who stuck with the game even though we were being no-hit for quite a lot of it, and one-hit for a majority of it. And by stuck with the game, I mean, were involved, without needing Diamond Vision distractions to keep them involved. The Diamond Vision didn’t need to tell us when to get up, it was quite behind us getting up.

    These fans have always been in Seattle, they just haven’t been coming to Safeco in sufficient numbers to make a difference. It’s hard to get a cheer going when there are only 13,000 there, half of whom are rooting for the other team.

    I hope you’re right, Dave, that this is the start of something big.

  9. SonOfZavaras on August 21st, 2012 10:37 pm

    They aren’t going to keep THIS kind of stuff up- 14 out of 15 at home?!- but I think this team IS starting to grow up right before our eyes.

    And several players have me convinced they’re pieces of the long-term puzzle.

    If only I didn’t have so much to get done today, I would’ve been there…I’ll have to settle for the game on the 31st against the Angels.

  10. TomTuttle on August 21st, 2012 10:48 pm

    What about the mess the Mariners have gotten themselves into with their anti-Sonics Arena stance though?

    And what about Lincoln saying when our mysterious, secretive owner doesn’t show up for the Mariners two games in Tokyo this year that “quite frankly, a man of his stature doesn’t need an excuse to show up.”

    Or Armstrong saying that the Mariners were looking actively to extend Ichiro’s contract despite the fact that:

    A) Ichiro is fading in the sunset
    B) They went down the same route with Johjima in ’08 and it turned out to be a DISASTER

    It almost seems like, as Ian and Puck touched on a couple days ago on KJR, that there’s the side of the Mariners that legitimately loves the organization, love the fans and want to see things get turned around (players, Kevin Martinez, broadcasters, Jack Z, Wedge, etc.) and then another side of the organization that kind of operates out of their own shortsighted, clueless and penny-pinching interests (Nintendo and anyone associated with them, which of course, includes Howard and Chuck).

    In short, good for the Mariners for drawing a big crowd tonight and obviously the fans will come back a little bit if you give them a reason to hope.

    But a change in ownership MIGHT be the real tonic that the fanbase needs.

    Because in sports, and for that matter business, if you have the right people in power at the top of the organization, that CAN start a real nice trickle down effect. . .

  11. StorminGorman on August 21st, 2012 10:51 pm

    Don’t look now, but they’re a lovable, appreciative bunch. Felix throws a perfect game and what does he do? He thanks the fans. Jaso in the post-game interview: “Thanks for coming out, everybody.” They say nice things, we say nice things back, it’s a dialog and a relationship.

    I’m still not convinced that *any* of these guys (outside of Montero) is part of a long-term future. But right now, they’re winning, it’s fun, they’re having fun, they seem to like that we’re having fun… I hope it keeps up.

  12. TomTuttle on August 21st, 2012 10:57 pm

    Montero + Seager + Ackley + Saunders/Guti/Thames + 3 more OPS guys/upgrades and you MIGHT have something here. . .

    But ownership might have to pony up. . .

  13. gag harbor on August 21st, 2012 11:08 pm

    At 7.5 games out of the Wild Card spot, they could conceivably get a lot of excitement by staying 4-5 games out through September. It sets up a mindset for next year among the fan base (and Geoff Baker).

  14. GLS on August 21st, 2012 11:13 pm

    I count 7 prospects in Double-A or Triple-A that should be in the top 100.

    Not necessarily in order:

    Danny Hultzen
    Taijuan Walker
    James Paxton
    Mike Zunino
    Nick Franklin
    Stefen Romero
    Brad Miller

    I’m not really a huge believer in the value of specific prospect rankings, but the number of players an organization has in the top 100 list seems like a decent marker of organizational health. It shows you’re doing some things right anyway.

  15. Dave on August 21st, 2012 11:15 pm

    Romero and Miller are not top 100 guys.

  16. rjjunior on August 21st, 2012 11:26 pm

    …all of A sudden…

  17. bookbook on August 21st, 2012 11:42 pm

    Sickels had Miller at #91 in his midseason update, though that didn’t include new draftees.

  18. dnc on August 22nd, 2012 12:23 am

    I think Miller is borderline top 100 but will be outside more lists than he’s inside. Romero’s not going to be in anyone’s top 100.

  19. GLS on August 22nd, 2012 12:45 am

    I don’t know all that much about Brad Miller as a hitter and what’s driving his ability to succeed at Double-A. But more has been written about Romero. He’s a little older, which dims his prospect value, but he has legitimate tools and he’s backing up those tools by dominating Double-A pitching. He won’t be in the top 50, but I suspect he could sneak in at the bottom of BA’s Top 100 list.

  20. Rick Banjo on August 22nd, 2012 12:46 am

    In 2001, I went to 70 games and the Home Run Derby.

    This was the first time since that year where it felt like Safeco’s seat rake was near vertical, and its occupants were the lone tipping point between polite society and seismic bedlam.

    That one made me miss Mr. Niehaus. Especially when Montero went yard.

  21. just a fan on August 22nd, 2012 12:51 am

    I’m not printing 2013 playoff tickets.

    I’m printing 2012 playoff tickets!

  22. dewey on August 22nd, 2012 2:46 am

    Dave, after a few years of reading this site and never posting a comment, i have to now. It’s so refreshing to hear your voice as an enthusiastic fan, and not a constant critic. Even though i love your criticism, even though i often agree and disagree with you, i love it that on a night like this none of that matters. We are all Mariners fans.

  23. justinh on August 22nd, 2012 3:11 am

    As Dave and many others have said, you really got the feeling tonight was a turning point we will look back on as a big day for Mariner baseball. Not that I want to get too giddy, but even when we were hitless through five I didn’t have any sunken feeling or the “here we go again” mentality I usually had.

    In talking to an MLB scout and a Mariners FO executive over the past few days, I asked what they thought was leading the M’s surge. Both mentioned they see the guys staying within themselves offensively and not pressing at the plate. One mentioned the depth of the Mariners bullpen and if a starter can give you at least 6 or 7 good innings, game over. Another point made is how a young team with talent can flip a switch quickly and ride the momentum. I believe this is what Wedge has been alluding to for some time now. While Wedge may not be the best in putting a lineup together, he is a good leader and as I have said for a long time I think he is perfect for this ball club.

    It’s funny because mentioning the top 100 and how many M’s make it got me thinking. The Mariners FO, with Zdurienzik and T-MAC, remind me a great deal of the Seahawks FO and John Schnieder. Both came from Wisconsin and have a knack for making good selections later in the draft as well as finding rather obscure players who end up being pretty good. Obviously this doesn’t mean jack squat, but I like the way both organizations are being ran. Both are full of young talent and hopefully on the cusp of breaking out.

    In regards to the top 100, the Mariners are going to only get the Fab-5 in the final cut, but there are many guys who are in the discussion for the next 50 spots. Brandon Mauer, Stephen Romero, Brad Miller, Anthony Fernandez, and Carter Capps (depending on service time) are all brought up quite a bit by scouts.. The M’s system is filled with a boatload of talented prospects and simply using statistics you know a few of the guys ranked #10-50 are going to turn into quality talents. Many of our #30-50 guys would crack the top 20 in other organizations. This is a deep system with many bright spots that intrigue me. Julio Morban is a 20 yr old putting up great numbers in High A ball (yes, we know it is HD, but still great numbers) and if he can ever stay healthy he could be legit. Castillo, Pimentel, Sanchez, Proscia, Marder, and many others are also still intriguing and you have to think one or more of these guys is going to turn into a legit MLB starter.

    Exciting times. Maybe I will be able to ween off the Prozac I have taken since the 2008 season. It felt like a playoff game tonight! As Dave Niehaus would say “And the Mariners have the winds at their back and they are flying high my friends. Yes indeed.”

  24. Snuffy on August 22nd, 2012 3:19 am

    Turning point? I sure hpoe so but…
    Last 7 days… Smoak is hitting .190 with 1 walk & 1 homerun. When does Montero get a look at 1b?

  25. stevemotivateir on August 22nd, 2012 6:46 am

    Great post, Dave! Perfectly said. This was kind of a “State of the Mariners” address.

  26. Westside guy on August 22nd, 2012 7:40 am

    Snuffy, I’ve been complaining about Smoak’s performance as loudly as anyone, but – it’s not really his fault he’s on the major league roster right now. If Carp hadn’t gone down, Smoak would’ve been in Tacoma these past couple weeks, hopefully working towards fixing his swing.

    We already knew he had major problems. It’s unrealistic to expect them to be fixed after only a handful of days at AAA, though. One can argue whether ultimately he is or isn’t fixable; but he hasn’t really gotten a fair chance to try.

  27. Mariners35 on August 22nd, 2012 8:02 am

    We got our hopes up a few years ago and the whole thing crashed and burned, so you shouldn’t start printing 2013 playoff tickets just yet.

    As an aside, I noticed the other day that the Pirates were just cleared by MLB to start printing 2012 playoff tickets. Is that a sign of the apocalypse or what? I’m half-tempted to get one and then sell it as memorabilia later…

    I was at the game last night and it was easily the best game, and definitely the best crowd energy and noise, that I’ve seen in 5 years or more. Home openers and Ichiro milestones and midseason feints at playoff runs and Yankee games @ Safeco have not that kind of vibe. And as someone noted above, it was so refreshing to have the stadium full of not just 40k fans, but 40k Mariner fans.

    We know all the things that some of these players and coaches need to do, or do better. We know what the front office needs to do, to get the most out of their guys and put the best guys on the field. We know what the organization should be trading for, investing in, and spending to get and keep quality ballplayers. We know what these guys have done, and what the numbers and projections are.

    But for one night, my god, it was good to believe again.

  28. patnmic on August 22nd, 2012 8:23 am

    1995 Junior, Bone, Randy and Edgar are credited with saving the franchise. I think we will look on 2012 as the year the King resurrected the franchise.

  29. Paul B on August 22nd, 2012 8:28 am

    I was fortunate enough to be at the game last night. We did get to see a really good show:

    Even on a night when he isn’t sharp, Felix is good enough to keep the team in the game. And that homer that Montero hit was a thing of beauty, 430+ feet out to left center, hit off something between the first and second decks. And Trayvon with a sliding catch of a ball that was curving away from him down the line. And Ackley with an amazing stop to start a double play. And Ryan with a rare error and missed a tough one that was called a hit, not a good night for Ryan.

    On the way home, the 10:05 Bainbridge ferry was crowded. On a Tuesday night. I’d guess 80% of the people were wearing yellow shirts.

    It’s been a long time since we had a big crowd for a weeknight game.

  30. eponymous coward on August 22nd, 2012 10:11 am

    The part where you go from “OK, you might win 85 and sneak into the playoffs one year” to sustained excellence is the hard part- look at Cleveland from the late 00′s on for an illustration of how a good young team went from “up and coming with a smart GM” to back down on the floor.

    Getting high draft picks and not screwing them up is less difficult than getting to the year-after-year success we really want. I really hope this team and GM is up to it. It’s nice to feel like it might happen- now it’s up to the folks at Edgar and Dave to make it happen.

    Also, this gets back to Dave’s point about why there really IS a difference between a 75-80 win team that isn’t great, but isn’t totally unwatchable, and a 65-70 win team that’s just all-around bad, and why you don’t just punt the season and figure “we’ll try to win games a few years from now”.

  31. kenshabby on August 22nd, 2012 10:40 am

    We’re also a team that doesn’t have Michael Morse–d’oh!

    Seriously, this has become quite a fun season, partly because I expected us to finish much closer to .400 than .500. Felix has been amazing, Jaso, Iwakuma (the starter), and Saunders have all been pleasant surprises, and assorted role players have looked very good at times.

    And how about that defense? #1 in MLB woooo (based on UZR)! We’re also on pace to surpass the ’03 M’s club for fewest team errors committed in a single season.

  32. drw on August 22nd, 2012 10:42 am

    Coincidentally, today ESPN ran its “Future Power Rankings” of MLB organizations, designed to show “to measure how well each team is set up for sustained success over the next five years.” Insider material so can’t link. Teams ranked 16 to 30 listed today, Ms are #18, mostly on the strength of their minors, finance and “Mobility” (criteria below). SF is 16, Cubs are 17, SD is 19, Mets are 20. Below M’s are teams including White Sox, Phillies, Royals, Orioles, Twins as well as those you might expect (Indians, Astros, Rockies).

    Criteria:
    MAJORS (full weight): Quality of current big league roster
    MINORS (full weight): Quality and quantity of prospects in their farm system
    FINANCE (2/3 weight): How much money do they have to spend?
    MANAGEMENT (2/3 weight): Value and stability of ownership, front office and coaching staff
    MOBILITY (1/3 weight): Do they have a lot of young, cheap players, or old, immovable guys?

  33. DarkKnight1680 on August 22nd, 2012 10:43 am

    re: Smoak and 1st base. I, for one (and maybe/likely the only one), am hoping that when rosters expand the team surprises me and brings Poythress to the big club.

    He’s 25. He’s got the best eye in the organization (and maybe in all of MiLB right now). He has some power potential but he’s an on-base machine who doesn’t strike out, and except for an injury-caused slump has been pretty much the best offensive player in his league. Couldn’t hurt to give him a shot at 1B late in the year.

  34. stevemotivateir on August 22nd, 2012 10:51 am

    ^Not likely, as Poythress isn’t on the 40-man. So yeah, it would be a surprise.

  35. DarkKnight1680 on August 22nd, 2012 10:59 am

    40 man spots are easy. Olivo? Cut. Figgins? Cut. There’s 2 right there, being taken up by guys with no present and no future! And that’s without mentioning Ruffin or Medina.

  36. BLYKMYK44 on August 22nd, 2012 11:37 am

    Smoak hit two (or three?) balls hard last night that were right at someone. Seems like a pretty small sample size to just look at the numbers since his return. His swing and approach looks a bit better.

  37. wilchiro on August 22nd, 2012 12:28 pm

    I’m just satisfied that this team has a higher winning percentage than the Boston Red Sox on August 22nd. This team is giving me hope.

  38. 300ZXNA on August 22nd, 2012 1:28 pm

    Why does there continue to be such a controversy regarding the Morse/Langerhans trade? I agree that Morse has exceeded expectations offensively, but even then he gives back a lot of value defensively and he is only on pace for about 1 WAR this year. Useful, for sure, but nothing would have caused this season to be markedly different.

  39. thurston24 on August 22nd, 2012 2:43 pm

    I hear everyone complaining about Smoak this year and just have one thought I need to express. If the move the fences in next year, he will produce. I know, you all probably think I’m crazy but I really believe Safeco is causing guys like Smoak and Ackley to mess up their swings.

  40. stevemotivateir on August 22nd, 2012 4:47 pm

    ^Uh, yeah… you’re crazy. The fences have nothing to do with Smoak grounding out to second or popping the ball up. And Ackley isn’t a power hitter anyway. The issue with their swings are mechanical and mental.

  41. stevemotivateir on August 22nd, 2012 4:52 pm

    @darknight

    They just aren’t going to promote a guy from AA to the Major Leagues. Cutting Olivo right now is pointless. Figgins…. should have been a long time ago! I’d add to your argument that Francisco Martinez shouldn’t be on the 40 man either. But the point’s the same. They just aren’t going to promote a guy from AA and have him skip AAA. If they actually were willing to make a roster move, and have a player skip AAA, Zunino would probably get the call first. Or even Romero. I’m not saying I completely hate your suggestion. I just don’t think it will happen.

  42. californiamariner on August 22nd, 2012 4:54 pm

    I haven’t felt better about the future of the M’s in a while

  43. bejahu on August 22nd, 2012 5:20 pm

    Just one question, what kind of spot is there for Zunino with Montero, Jaso, and Olivo? I’m assuming the easy answer is to not have Olivo and have Montero stick to more of a DH role platooned with Jaso. What’s the long term plan there?

  44. GLS on August 22nd, 2012 9:13 pm

    Churchill has written on more than one occasion that Poythress has a slow bat, or at least below average bat speed by major league standards. I don’t know how accurate that is, or how important it is, but that could be one reason they aren’t in a hurry to promote him, despite numbers that indicate an exceptional batting eye. There’s also the fact that he’s a big, right-handed batting first baseman/DH type. If he’s an elite hitter, that’s fine, but his value is pretty limited otherwise.

  45. DarkKnight1680 on August 22nd, 2012 9:38 pm

    You have to wonder, though, how slow a guy’s bat can be if he’s striking out 9% of the time and hitting .315. Carlos Peguero gets that bat moving pretty darn fast but he can’t hit the ball, so what does it matter?

    It costs the Mariners nothing to give him a shot in September. Olivo and Figgins have no value. He’s 25, so starting his option clock isn’t exactly an issue. And they have reps at 1B available with the big club so long as Smoak is scuffling. There’s no downside, and if he struggles then who cares? He’ll start next year in AAA and try to get back.

  46. GLS on August 22nd, 2012 11:35 pm

    I’ve also read that bat speed is something that isn’t well understood right now.

    Here is a Bill James quote that I found on a couple of different sites. I have no idea what article this came from. I’m only putting it here to credit the notion that bat speed may not be the be all end all.

    “It is my opinion that the modern emphasis on bat speed is extremely unwise and destructive. Only a few hitters actually benefit from having good bat speed… Everybody else would be better off to slow their bat down and keep it in the strike zone much longer…

    There’s a great advantage to a QUICK bat; there’s a great advantage in getting the bat into position to hit as quickly as possible once you decide to swing. But bat SPEED is trading power for strikeouts. Slow the bat down and make contact; you’re better off.”

  47. stevemotivateir on August 23rd, 2012 7:45 am

    I would be willing to bet we’ll see Montero at first before we see anyone else, other than Carp and Smoak.

  48. Westside guy on August 23rd, 2012 11:59 am

    GLS:

    A right-handed first baseman? Wedge’s head would kersplode – no way we’re ever seeing Poythress in a Mariners’ uniform. Gotta protect the manager.

    Uh oh, I just realized we’d have the same problem with Montero. Better start covering the dugout with sheets or something.

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