Mariners trying to attract bats, fans with Safeco changes

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Let’s face it, there’s one very big reason the Mariners are pulling in the fences at Safeco Field next year:

Attendance/game
2007: 32,588
2008: 28,762
2009: 27,105
2010: 25,749
2011: 23,411
2012: 21,417

The Mariners peaked at more than 43,000 fans per game while leading the AL in attendance in 2001 and ’02. They ranked sixth-to-eighth each year from 2006-11 before plummeting to 11th this season.  That’s despite the fact that they’ve gone from 61 and 67 wins the last two years to 73 with two games remaining this season.

From a performance standpoint, there’s good reason to think the Mariners are better off playing in an extreme pitcher’s park. They have one of the game’s five-best pitchers in Felix Hernandez, they’ve gotten quality results out of journeyman arms and they possess two of the game’s top 10 (and three of the top 20) pitching prospects in the minors. To put it kindly, more of their talent is concentrated in pitching than in hitting.

But it’s also true that the Mariners aren’t winning anyway, and 80 percent of the time, they’re just not very interesting. The truth is that more people would rather watch the Mariners lose 7-5 than 2-0.

Now, that possibility alone won’t bring fans streaming through the turnstiles. But adding a couple of quality hitters might, and it’s going to be easier to sign free agent bats in the new Safeco than it was in the old Safeco. As it was, no big-time power-hitter with a bunch of suitors was going to choose Seattle.

That has to be part of the thinking here. It doesn’t seem at all likely that Josh Hamilton will make the move to the Pacific Northwest this winter, but the Mariners will try to add two hitters, one likely an outfielder.

I’m still not at all convinced this is the right move, at least not to the extent to which they’ve gone. They’re bringing in the left-center power alley by 12 feet and as much as 17 feet in one spot. It’s only going to be a four-foot difference down the left field line and in center (right field is staying the same), but combine the power alley difference and the lower wall in left and it looks like Safeco is in for quite the significant change. Something more mild that would have guaranteed Safeco remained at least a modest pitcher’s park would have been a better idea in my mind. But this is more about money than winning ballgames and it shows.

Marcus Stroman named World Baseball Classic MVP

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United States starter Marcus Stroman was named Most Valuable Player of the World Baseball Classic after helping lead the U.S. to its first ever WBC title on Wednesday night in an 8-0 victory over Puerto Rico. Stroman flirted with a no-hitter through six innings, but gave up a double to lead off the seventh before being relieved by Sam Dyson.

Stroman also pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings against the Dominican Republic in Pool C play on March 11. He struggled in Pool F play against Puerto Rico last Friday, surrendering four runs in 4 2/3 innings.

The WBC MVP award understandably goes to a player of the winning team. However, Wladimir Balentien of the Netherlands deserves special mention. In 26 at-bats during the WBC, he hit a double and had a WBC-high four home runs, 12 RBI, and 12 runs scored while putting up a .615/.677/.1.115 batting line. That’s MVP-esque as far as this tournament is concerned.

U.S. blanks Puerto Rico 8-0 to win first World Baseball Classic title

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The United States handed Puerto Rico its first loss in the World Baseball Classic, winning 8-0 for its first title in the fourth iteration of the tournament.

Puerto Rico starter Seth Lugo was matching Marcus Stroman zero-for-zero through the first two innings, but the U.S. broke out for a pair of runs when Ian Kinsler deposited a two-run home run just beyond the fence in left-center at Dodger Stadium. The U.S. tacked on two more in the fifth on RBI singles from Christian Yelich and Andrew McCutchen, pushing the lead to 4-0.

Meanwhile, Stroman was dealing. The right-hander, normally seen in a Blue Jays uniform, held Puerto Rico hitless through his first six innings, giving up just a lone walk. The U.S. put together a long rally in the top of the seventh, scoring three runs on three hits, two walks, and a hit batter. Stroman came back out for the seventh but immediately served up a double down the left field line to Angel Pagan. U.S. manager Jim Leyland immediately lifted Stroman from the game, bringing in Sam Dyson who escaped the inning without any further damage.

Pat Neshek allowed a leadoff single to Yadier Molina to begin the eighth, but induced a double-play, then worked around a two-out walk by striking out Kenny Vargas to end the frame.

In the ninth, David Robertson took over. He induced an infield pop-up from Enrique Hernandez. After Pagan singled up the middle, Francisco Lindor sharply grounded out to Eric Hosmer at first base for the second out. Finally, Robertson closed it out, inducing Carlos Correa to ground out to third base, making the U.S. 8-0 victors over Puerto Rico to win the World Baseball Classic.

Puerto Rico had an admirable run, defeating Venezuela, Mexico, and Italy to get out of Pool D undefeated. Then, in Pool F, it beat Venezuela again as well as the U.S. and the Dominican Republic to move to the semifinals. It narrowly edged Netherlands 4-3 in the semifinals to get into the finals.

The U.S. lost to the D.R. but beat Canada and Colombia to get out of Pool C. In Pool F, the U.S. lost to Puerto Rico and defeated the D.R again as well as Venezuela. The U.S. took down Japan in the semifinals to advance to the finals to play Puerto Rico.

The U.S. joins Japan (twice, 2006 and ’09) and the Dominican Republic (2013) as countries to win the World Baseball Classic. The 2017 tournament was a rousing success, setting attendance records, drawing over one million fans to ballparks to take in the games. It will hopefully encourage commissioner Rob Manfred and others to make a concerted effort to make the 2021 tournament bigger and better.