As M's fall apart, heat on manager is misplaced


zduriencik-100610.jpgThe Seattle Mariners were blown out by the Texas Rangers again on Thursday, this time 12-3 in a game in which the Mariners allowed an astounding eight unearned runs.

Seattle dropped a season-worst 14 games below .500 and has been outscored 31-6 in its last three games, all losses to the AL West-leading Rangers.

Seattle has spent most of the season performing below expectations, though anyone who took a realistic look at their offense might have predicted it. The Mariners’ recent run, however, speaks to problems that run deeper than the talent level of the roster, as otherwise sound players are making mistakes in the field and showing a lack of focus.

In fact, there are rumblings that manager Don Wakamatsu is losing control of the clubhouse, in part over the way the beloved Ken Griffey Jr. headed off (or was pushed?) into retirement.

Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times writes that Griffey’s departure led to ill-feelings in the clubhouse over how the end of Griffey’s career was handled.

Wakamatsu and Griffey had stopped talking to each other the final 10 days or so before the latter’s abrupt resignation. Griffey was upset over a lack of playing time. His demeanor and relations between him and Wakamatsu quickly deteriorated in the days and weeks after publication of a story that Griffey had been napping in the clubhouse late in a game when he may have been needed in a pinch-hitting role.

Now, with the Mariners having lost six of its last seven games, Wakamatsu and his staff are trying get this season righted again and avoid another 90-loss — or even 100-loss campaign like the one two years ago.

In addition to the Griffey mess, Wakamatsu has rankled Chone Figgins by bumping him to the No. 9 spot in the order, and irritated pitcher Ian Snell for critical comments (though the way Snell has pitched he should be grateful Wakamatsu remembers his name).

But while it’s tempting to pour the heat onto the manager, general manager Jack Zduriencik should share it, or even carry the bulk of it. As golden as his touch was in his first year on the job, Zduriencik got very little right heading into this season.

Sure, Cliff Lee has been great since he got healthy, but the rest of it has been an utter train wreck:

  • Figgins is hitting .225.
  • Casey Kotchman, brought in to be the regular first baseman, is hitting .194.
  • Reliever Brandon League has been good at times, awful at others.
  • The decision to carry Mike Sweeney and Griffey as co-DHs was a disaster, as Griffey can no longer hit, and Sweeney is, at this point in his career, little better than a league-average player who can’t stay healthy.
  • And Milton Bradley? Well, we don’t have time to get into all of that right now.

So JZ, the pressure should be on you. Your first step might be to find some suitors for Lee, because there’s no way he’s going to want to stick around for the rebuilding project that lies ahead.

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John Lackey to start Game 1 of the NLDS for the Cardinals

John Lackey
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St. Louis has decided on John Lackey as the Game 1 starter in the NLDS versus the winner of tonight’s Wild Card game, manager Mike Matheny announced.

Lackey led the Cardinals in starts (33) and innings (218) this season while posting a 2.77 ERA and 175/53 K/BB ratio with 21 homers allowed.

Carlos Martinez being out for the playoffs with a shoulder injury took a big rotation option away from Matheny, but Lackey has a 3.10 ERA in 43 starts since joining the Cardinals in mid-2014 and also has a 3.08 ERA in 117 career postseason innings.

He’ll face either the Cubs or the Pirates, in St. Louis. No word yet on the order, but Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn, and Jaime Garcia figure to follow Lackey in the rotation.

The Yankees were booed last night. Did they deserve it?

Masahiro Tanaka

The boos came raining down from the Yankee Stadium faithful last night. They started when Brett Gardner grounded out in the eighth inning. More came later. A lot of it was, no doubt, based on Gardner’s disappointing performance late in the season. A lot of it was because, around that time, it seemed like the Yankees had zero shot whatsoever to mount a comeback. Which, in fact, they didn’t. A lot of it was pent-up frustration, I assume, from a late season skid which saw the Yankees lose their lead in the AL East and wind up in the Wild Card Game in the first place.

Anyone who buys a ticket has a right to boo. Especially when they buy a ticket as expensive as Yankees tickets are. It’s obviously understandable to be disappointed when your team loses. Especially when your team is eliminated like the Yankees were. And last night’s game was particularly deflating, with that 3-0 Astros lead feeling more like 10-0 given how things were going.

But isn’t booing something more than a mere manifestation of disappointment? Isn’t a step beyond? Booing isn’t saying “I’m sad.” It’s saying “you suck!” It’s not saying “I’m disappointed,” it’s saying “you should be ashamed of yourselves!” And with all respect to Yankees fans, the 2015 Yankees have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.

This was a club expected to miss the playoffs, full stop. Maybe some people allowed for an if-everything-breaks-right flight of fancy, but hardly anyone expected them to play meaningful games late in the year, let alone a playoff game. They were too old. Too injured. There weren’t enough young reinforcements to fill the gaps. Some even went so far as to claim that they were about to spend years in the wilderness.

But then A-Rod broke out of the gate strong. And Michael Pineda had a really nice first couple of months. And Mark Teixeira put up numbers that wouldn’t have been out of place for him several years ago. The bullpen did what it was supposed to do and more, Masahiro Tanaka held together somehow and, eventually, a couple of young players like Greg Bird and Luis Severino came in to reinforce things. The not-going-anywhere Yankees were contenders. And they led the division for a good while. Of course they stumbled late. And of course they lost last night, but by just about any reasonable measure, this was a good team — better than expected — and, unlike a lot of Yankees teams in the past, was pretty darn enjoyable to watch.

Then the boos. I just can’t see how this Yankees team deserved that.

I realize a lot of people in the media have duped a lot of people into thinking that a team with a high payroll is supposed to be dominant. And I realize George Steinbrenner duped a whole lot of people into thinking that anything less than a World Series championship for the New York Yankees is failure. But that’s rhetoric and branding, not reason. In the real world where baseball players play baseball games World Series titles are rare, even for the Yankees. At the end of the season all but one of 30 teams are either at home for the playoffs or went home after suffering a gut-wrenching playoff loss. The Yankees are the most dominant franchise in the history of American professional sports yet they still have finished their year without a title over 75% of the time.

With that as a given, fans are left to judge their team’s performance based on its talent, its health, its heart, its entertainment value and the strength of the opposition which ultimately vanquished it. The Yankees weren’t nearly as talented as many, yet made the playoffs anyway. They were a walking hospital ward, let limped on. They never quit and never got pulled down into the sort of muck a lot of New York teams find themselves in when things start to go sideways. And, ultimately, they were simply beat by a better team. By any reasonable measure the 2015 Yankees were a good story, a successful enterprise, a resilient bunch and no small amount of fun.

It’s OK to be sad that it ended as it did. But that doesn’t deserve to be booed. Not by a long shot.