Roll The Die
Okay, we’re back to do it again. The Mariners are fresh off a skid of, I don’t know, sucking, and at present they sit with the second-worst record in the American League. It’s time for me to issue a response, which means it’s time for me to leave the tenor of said response up to the whims of Microsoft Excel. To refresh your memory, here’s the first time this happened, when we all got to learn a cool thing about owls. The necessary details:
I’m here to talk about the Mariners in some way or another, though I’m 17% here to talk about owls. What’s there to be said about this baseball team, or owls? Let me roll the die.
Random number: 1!
Unrestrained Emotional Overreaction
As I’ve sat here, pretty much exactly here, following this compost heap of a baseball team, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked aloud, what the shit is this shit? It’s like the Mariners are playing roster problem Whac-A-Mole, where for everything they try to solve, another problem pops up somewhere else. Got Nelson Cruz to fix the lineup? Robinson Cano hurts the lineup. Add J.A. Happ to stabilize the rotation? Time for Taijuan Walker, miscalibrated pitching machine. Hey, Seth Smith is all right! But now the bullpen is more afraid of outs than Dustin Ackley is of hits. For good measure, we’ve also got a team that for whatever reason isn’t even playing fundamentally sound. The symbol of the season to date is Cano inexplicably wandering off third base. Look how close the Mariners can get! They don’t want to get any closer. The Mariners are comfortable observing good baseball, but they’ll be damned if they’re going to participate.
“Close.” That’s been kind of a buzzword. The Mariners over one stretch played 19 consecutive games decided by three runs or less. Since that ended, they’ve played four one-run games in a row, the streak interrupted only by a delightful drubbing at the hands of the Astros in a game the Mariners once led by three. People find consolation in close losses. “They’re right there,” it gets repeated. “One break and it’s a whole other result.” Yeah, that’s the thing about losses. Losses are basically just wins but with things that are bad instead of good. Every Dustin Ackley groundout to second is a matter of feet away from being a Dustin Ackley single into right-center! He’s practically Trout. The Mariners have the second-worst record in the American League. On the plus side, they have the second-worst run differential in the American League. Thank god for BaseRuns. Oh, the Mariners are 11-17? Well, according to BaseRuns, they should be 12-16. Plan the parade!
People like to point out that the Angels are a glorified one-man team. Well that might be, but if I say the Phillies are shitty, that doesn’t mean the Mariners aren’t shitty. Felix has started six times this season, and the Mariners have won six games. Which is outstanding, except for the fact that all of the other games have taken place and haven’t been rained out. Being 6-0 with Felix means the Mariners have also been 5-17 with not-Felix, and, I gotta tell you, most of the games aren’t Felix games, although at some point maybe the team should consider starting him every game day just to see. Have to try something, right? That one commercial might as well have been foreshadowing. We know Felix would be game for it. We know this because Felix is a very confident individual, and because Felix is stupid. Why else would he commit himself to the baseball-team equivalent of a dog standing up on its hind legs? It’s almost like the dog is a regular person, except for it being a dog.
You know who’s in first place right now? Of course you do, it’s the team that just recently swept this team. The Astros have almost twice as many wins as losses, which is interesting because just a few years ago they had twice as many losses as wins. The Astros bottomed out in 2011 and they’re already back and looking at a playoff spot. They’re already stocked with talent, and the problem with promoting Carlos Correa is they might have too many good players. The Mariners bottomed out in 2004, but I’m sure success is right around the corner. The Astros, despite all the mockery, despite all the disastrous PR, have lapped the Mariners, who’ve been looking for room to play Willie Bloomquist. Who’ve been stuck on Dustin Ackley, and Logan Morrison. Hey, Morrison’s hot! This time it has to be for real. And if something happens, there’s Jesus Montero. The dream of 2009 is alive in Seattle. The future was bright, and instead of wearing shades, the Mariners blinded themselves.
It’s been fun to watch Nelson Cruz obliterate baseballs and put spectators in mortal danger. And because he only ever hits solo dingers no one has to come away feeling too bad about themselves. It’s good theater and a good distraction, the Mariners saying “look over there!” whenever we think we smell something funny. Cruz is fleeting positivity, a puddle of water on a California sidewalk. Look, right there — that’s the solution to everything. That’s all that anybody needs. But the puddle will inevitably evaporate, just like all the other puddles. That’s what puddles do in that kind of environment.
That’s the root of all of this. You think the answer is other players, better players? It’s tempting. Alluring. Easy. Here is a roster, and here is a roster with a few better players. Voila, a good roster! That can be how it works elsewhere, but that’s not how it works here. The Mariners’ problem isn’t talent, and it hasn’t been about talent for years. The Mariners have as much talent as any other team. But there’s talent, and there’s converting that talent into success, and where other teams are locked in a space race, the Mariners are stuck in the Bronze Age. They can’t get good players out of good skills. Worse, good players seem to deteriorate, like they’re being drained. Ackley was automatic until he wasn’t. Mike Zunino has only gotten worse. Justin Smoak never did anything. Jesus Montero never did anything. Taijuan Walker isn’t progressing. James Paxton is frustrating. Austin Jackson is somehow hilariously bad. Robinson Cano’s OPS starts with a 6, and this is Year Two of a guaranteed 10. Kyle Seager was the one exception, the one miracle, but even he now seems defeated. By the way, D.J. Peterson is slugging .301. Alex Jackson is slugging .194. Nelson Cruz’s performance is almost adorable. Look at him, try to ignore his context. He’s so bold, so full of hope. It’s futile. It’s like life itself — in the end, death always wins. Cruz has been an oasis, but he’s going to Mariner it. It won’t be his fault, even though we’ll pretend it is.
Our exception is Felix Hernandez. In Felix, we have the perfect player, and the perfect pitcher, the perfect star and the perfect one-time prospect. You couldn’t possibly ask for more. He’s reached his ceiling and then some, and he’s been marketed so well the stadium is sometimes full of people in matching t-shirts chanting for him in unison. Between ourselves and Felix, it’s hard to say who carries the greater burden. Long ago, when the Mariners were shredding all their young arms, we asked for just one to survive and were given a curse. We got what we asked for. Felix is the victim. Rooting is a struggle between wanting more wins around Felix, and wishing for Felix to be granted his freedom. It makes no difference. There will never be enough wins. There will never be freedom.
There will never be freedom. This is our cage. If we look in the mirror, it’s almost like we have company.