Friday, July 15, 2011

Mariners Midseason: Baseball is not Football

Baseball is not football.
Baseball is not football.

I keep reminding myself this. 160 games, not 16 games. Swings and rhythms and sine curves, not black swans every other week. Each game is not the end of the world.

More importantly baseball involves investing and developing players, none of whom come ready to play into the major leagues even after four years of college or five years in the minors. Unless you buy teams by plucking the best from the rest like the Yankees, baseball involves patience; football does not.

So I look at my Mariners on the tipping point of free fall into another miserable season and am amazed at the clamor and hue and cry from the blog sphere and fans and reporters for the team to “save” the lost season by making a trade for a hitter or two or three; heck we would settle from someone who can hit over 250 at this point.

The paradox lies with the Mariners. Up to this point, they revealed remarkable pitching, the second or third best in the majors depending upon your indicators. Five very good starters including rookie Michael Pineda and resurrected zombie Eric Bedard plus a stunning bullpen made up of guys from no where having superb years and Brandon League finally figuring out how to match his speed with his sinker skills to become an all star closer. By sheer talent and skill, they have kept the Mariners in game after game and up to ten days ago above five hundred.

This is a team everyone predicted, correctly it looks like, would only win 72 games. It possesses the worst, I mean utter miserable atrocious puking bad offense in the entire universe, let alone the major leagues. A starter knows if he gives up 3.4 runs, the game is lost. That is hard on starters and just as hard on fans.

The team had become interesting and enjoyable to watch as pitchers unfolded their contrasting styles and reeled off wonderful pitching masterery from Jason Vargas pinpoint control to Pineda’s power on power to Eric Bedard’s beautiful control, wonderful curve and increasing fast ball. Now and then the offense actually got a hit despite Ichiro having the worst career of his life and worries over his own tipping point at the age of 37.

This surprising start coupled with a horrible division kept the Mariners in a “race,” at least understood loosely for six weeks. This resulted in the pundits (everyone who disagrees with me) clamoring for the team to trade Bedard or trade anyone, actually, to get a hitter to be competitive.

The point of the game is that this is not and will not be a competitive team. But it is a fun and interesting team that is giving regular playing time to six first and second year players. The team is learning if their own system players can grow into major leaguers. The team must learn if Justin Smoak can develop consistency or Carlos Peguero can hit anything beyond mean foul balls. I could go on, but this team is playing out its destiny, which is two years away at least.

Not football. We cannot become a winning team in one free agent year and one trade will not make us a competitor. Relax, enjoy what they are giving us and evaluate closely.

I think we need to enjoy the weirdness. The free fall may come; but the players are growing and stumbling, and the team is learning whether the system has produced major league capable talent. If not, then it is time to trade, not now. Right now let me watch Bedard; he’s not Lee, but he is a joy to watch, a pitcher's pitcher and let’s give up the illusion of competing and settle for the reality of interesting play; hard earned victories and seeing if we have a future.

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