Still bitter about last night? Check out USSM's 'Future Forty'

So, let's say you don't agree with me, and you're not OK with the M's dropping two out of three to the Angels. You're despondent over the reality that the playoffs likely will not be coming to Seattle for the sixth consecutive year.

Well, nothing to cheer you up like looking to the future!

Dave Cameron over at U.S.S. Mariner has his "Future Forty" list in which he rates the Seattle Mariners' prospects. He just made his June updates today, and you can find his post that goes behind the numbers here.

Quick synopsis:

  1. Wladimir Balentien is still raw. He's doing OK for AAA ball, but don't count on any meaningful major league production soon.
  2. Adam Jones was ready for the bigs last week.
  3. Jeff Clement is looking more and more like a bust.
  4. Matt Tuiasosopo has cooled down in May, but it's no reason to panic. He's still progressing nicely.
  5. Chris Tillman has gotten shelled since being promoted to the California League, something that can't possibly be good for his development.
  6. Dave has a man-crush on 17-year-old shortstop Carlos Triunfel, who hit 326/.357/.424 in May at Class A ball.
Oh, and if you're curious, here's the reason for the man-crush:
"He showed some real power, driving 7 extra base hits, and actually drew walks in back to back games. His game is still ridiculously raw (he’s been picked off of first base four times in two months), but the bat is just so very special. He’s now only the second Mariner prospect ever to receive a 10 reward rating on the Future Forty. He’s still all projection at this point, but the ceiling is basically limitless. He’s got a real chance to be the next great Mariner hitter, and it’s been a long time since we had a prospect we could write that about."
So there you go. Hope you feel better now.

Finally, after three long years, a reason for hope

Let's just get this out of the way now: Yes, last night's loss hurt, for reasons I've already documented extensively. The fact that it happened with Felix on the hill, giving up seven runs on three homers -- after TWICE being given a lead -- doesn't exactly ease that sting, either.

Yet, I find myself strangely content this morning.

Am I happy? No -- that's probably not the right word, because no fan in his right mind is ever (A) happy when his team loses, or (B) happy when his team's playoff chances take a major hit.

But considering all we've been through with this team since 2001, I'm finding it hard to be too upset with the events that transpired on this 10-game road trip, and especially with what happened in Anaheim.

In fact, I'm encouraged.

The thing that's made it so positively painful to watch the Mariners over the past three years hasn't necessarily been the losing. Sometimes that's just the natural cycle of events (although Pat Gillick and the M's obviously could have done a better job preparing the organization for life after 116), and fans can deal with that -- if they believe it's not going to last forever.

The problem is, it did seem like it was going to last forever.

Boneheaded trades (Freddy Garcia, Randy Winn, Rafael Soriano), boneheaded contracts (Scott Spiezio, Rich Aurilia), a dearth of major league-ready prospects ... there just wasn't a lot to look forward to after two consecutive 90-loss seasons and an 84-loss season that only was that good after beating the crud out of the National League and an unnaturally hot streak in September. We wondered if we'd ever come out of the post-116 funk. Everything seemed so hopeless.

Today, however, I have hope. And that's why I feel surprisingly OK.

The first thing every Mariners fan needs to do today is put away those thoughts of a division championship. I think we have found out pretty clearly where this team stands, and it's not among the elite. Seattle is a good team that clearly is no longer wallowing with the dregs of the American League -- the trip through Kansas City and Tampa Bay showed us that -- but it's also a team that, to borrow a phrase from Saturday Night Live, is not quite ready for prime time. We hoped against hope that maybe we were catching lightning in a bottle again, but that's simply not the case.

Is that reason to be upset? I sure don't think so. It's naturaly to feel a little disappointed, but the Angels, who already arguably have the best rotation in the American League, are a darn good team that's probably going to get better in July -- they've got the prospects in their farm system to pick up a big bat for the stretch run. The Mariners have no such pieces. They might be able to move someone like Wladimir Balentien for a middle-of-the-rotation guy, but that's not going to be enough to propel them past Los Angeles (or any of the teams in the wild card mix).

But that's OK with me. You see, with its offense and pitching staff the way it is, this team is going to be involved in a lot of games like the one last night. And you can either choose to be entertained by what's going to develop over the next few months, or maddened.

I'll choose to be entertained. Because I'm fairly certain even better times are ahead.

This team is learning to win; I don't see those meek Mariners anymore who walk off the field with their tails between their legs after yet another game slipped away. I see a team that's clearly irritated by losing -- and finally doing something about it. I mean, seriously: Did you think the M's even had a prayer last night, after falling behind 4-1? Last year, the answer would have been absolutely no way. A month ago, it would have been probably not. Now? This team is showing an uncanny ability to battle back -- the mark of a rapidly improving ball club.

Additionally, this team his a nice nucleus of talent that it's building around, starting with a potential ace at the top of the rotation. Does this mean I'm suddenly happy with GM Bill Bavasi and manager Mike Hargrove and the jobs that they've done? Um, no. Thanks to some inept moves by Bavasi, the rest of the rotation is still a mess, and I still have major issues with deciding to compose an offensive lineup almost exclusively with aggressive hitters, despite it's recent success.

Bavasi has made too many mistakes to cause me to trust that he's the guy to get them over the hump with some shrewd moves this offseason. When Bavasi is finally replaced (and it has to happen) it'll be kind of like Phil Jackson replacing Del Harris with the Lakers in 1999 -- thanks for getting us to this point, Del, but it's time to bring in the closer to win those championships. U.S.S. Mariner has been campaiging for Cleveland vice president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti for a while, but I don't even pretend to know who would be the best fit. I just know it's not Bavasi.

As for Hargrove, I'm not as down at this point on him as I was early in the season. I think, as Geoff Baker notes (all the way at the bottom), this recent stretch of consecutive games has forced Hargrove to be a more flexible manager and I think he's done a pretty nice job of it, with Richie Sexson sitting on the bench last night a prime example. I think he's now bought himself some time to show what he can do with an improving ball club. The question is, will he continue it as the season goes? I'll reserve judgement on his future until I see whether this recent trend of success using his bench, playing matchups, etc. continues.

Because of all this, I'm excited to see where this season goes. If the Mariners somehow figure out a way to get back into the AL West race -- unlikely, as you see from the graph above (thanks again, coolstandings.com, for permission to use your graphic) -- that'll be gravy. In the meantime, I'll be perfectly OK heading to Safeco Field this summer for some beautiful nights knowing that my team has a chance to win on any given night.

Because how long has it been since we've been able to say that?


In case you missed it ...

... Kobe Bryant asked to be traded from the LA Lakers. Yes, the salaries work out to trade Ray Allen for Kobe straight up. No, it's never going to happen, because Kobe has a full no-trade clause, and if he is unhappy in LA, no way does he want to come here. Plus, he has a $13 million escalator clause in his contract, to be paid by the team that acquires him. Think Clay Bennett wants to pony up that kind of money?

... Jeff Weaver is returning to the M's rotation next week. I am not making this up. (You'll have to scroll down a little to find it. You'll also find a nice little shout out by Baker for HWTN -- pretty cool!)

... The NCAA actually did something right, granting the Duke lacrosse players an extra year of eligibility. I'll have more thoughts on that in the morning.

Until then, get your rally caps on -- M's trail by two in the top of the eighth. UPDATE: M's lose, 8-6. Disappointing end to the ninth -- really, is it that tough to lay off a breaking ball that bounces 12 inches in front of the plate? -- but I actually feel pretty good about the M's right now. I'll explain why in a full post in the morning.

M's now face "must-win game" No. 26 this season

OK, so maybe that's a little bit of an exaggeration.

But part of what's been fun about watching this team this season -- and trust me, I wasn't so sure I'd ever consider watching the Mariners "fun" this season -- is that every game seems so big. It seems like they're always on the verge of either becoming a serious threat in the AL West or becoming the also-ran we've grown so accustomed to over the past three years.

Accordingly, the M's face yet another one of these crossroads tonight: Win, and you're 3 1/2 games back; lose, and you're 5 1/2 games back. It's only two games, but two games is a huge difference.

Think of it this way. Let's say the M's take advantage of the upcoming soft spot in the schedule that features Texas, Baltimore, the Cubs, Houston, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati (with a series against San Diego and another singleton against Cleveland mixed in) and play .609 ball over those 23 games to go 14-9 before Boston comes to town on June 25. I think that's a reasonable proposition.

Under a 3 1/2-game deficit scenario, Los Angeles would have to go 10-12 over that same span for the M's to tie the Angels for first. If they're 5 1/2 back? The Angels have to go 8-14. Again, that's just to manage a tie. Don't forget, the Angels have played .600 ball so far this season -- including winning 15 of their past 20 -- and also play such juggernauts as Baltimore, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Houston and Pittsburgh over those 22 games. That's why sometimes teams make up only one game in a whole month.

Some people thought I was overreacting when I said the M's really needed to sweep this series, but fans often don't recognize just how hard it is to make up games on a team. They see a 4- to 6-game deficit and think, "That's totally doable." But at just 4 1/2 back today, the M's chances of making the playoffs stand at just 16.5 percent -- or, roughly, a 6-to-1 longshot, pretty much what it's been all year. (Thanks, coolstandings.com, for the graphs to the left.) Conversely, check out the Angels' playoff chances with "just" a 4 1/2-game lead, right below that.

I don't know how far those percentages will swing with a win or a loss tonight, but my best guess is probably five percent in either direction for the M's -- a significant amount, given the difference is 10-to-1 or 5-to-1. (UPDATE: It actually only took a 3 percent hit after Wednesday's loss -- roughly a 7-to-1 shot to make the playoffs now.)

Do I like the Mariners' chances tonight? Of course I do -- with Felix on the hill, I like their chances against anyone. I especially like the idea of a pitching confrontation with Vlad Guerrero that will somewhat resemble a fair fight.

I didn't much like a lot of what I saw out of the offense last night, however. The Mariners' hitters' lack of patience is well documented, and while it appeared they had a solid approach in the first inning, that approach was quickly abandoned the second time through the order as the hitters pressed to make something happen. Having a plan and sticking to it is the mark of a excellent offensive baseball team, and that will be necessary again tonight against Jered Weaver.

Good Weaver hasn't been nearly as spectacular as he was when he burst onto the scene last year, as injuries have again thrown a bump into his season. While his strikeout rate is higher than it was last year, his strikeouts to walks is way down. He's also giving up a lot more hits than last year, many of them the line drive variety. If the M's go up to bat with a plan to be patient -- and actually stick to the plan -- Weaver's stats tell us they'll get some walks and likely get a pitch they can drive.

It should be fun to watch. I was glued to the TV last night, even as it became apparent the Mariners had no answer for Santana and weren't likely to have one for Scot Shields or Frankie Rodriguez, either. And that's as telling as anything: For the first time in three years, I'm actually having fun as a Mariners fan.

Other observations from last night's game:

  • I'm not going to say last night was a game the M's should have won, but it's a game they certainly could have won. But rather than get too wrapped up in what could have been -- or too upset -- I'll say this: Last night's game struck me as the kind of game that happens to a baseball team over the course of a 162-game season, the kind of game where you just get exceedingly unlucky and it's the difference between scoring one run and four or five runs.

    Think about it -- Johjima's double play in the first inning that ricochets off the pitcher's mound right to the second baseman; Quinlan's diving stab of Guillen's rocket down the left field line; Ichiro losing a flyball in the twilight sky; numerous other hard hit balls being hit right at defenders. It's just unfortunate that it came in such an important game against the division leaders.

  • Loved what I saw out of Ryan Feierabend. He was one Ichiro misplay, one mistake pitch -- what in the world were he and Johjima thinking throwing a third consecutive fastball to a dead-red fastball hitter? -- and one boneheaded decision by Adrian Beltre (should have thrown to the plate in the 5th) from giving up just one run last night. He clearly is not a finished product, but that change-up is a major league-quality pitch right now.

    Dave Cameron over at U.S.S. Mariner said he reminds him of Jarrod Washburn, but he actually reminds me a little of a poor man's Cole Hamels with that change-up. He needs to locate that fastball better to be consistently effective in the bigs, and that curve could be a heck of a lot better if he'd get a little more downward action on it, but he pretty clearly represents an immediate upgrade over Jeff Weaver and Horacio Ramirez.

    If the M's are comfortable with him working on that fastball at the major league level, he should stay in the rotation. HoRam's $2.5 million salary isn't prohibitive, and he does have options left. Mike Hargrove was non-comittal after the game, and Times writer Geoff Baker speculates it hinges on convincing Weaver to make a couple of rehab starts at AAA.

  • After watching Raul Ibanez's debacle of a first inning in left field -- in which he made a comically pathetic slide as an imminently catchable dying line drive fell harmlessly in front of him, then he made another comically pathetic throw to home plate -- and subsequently watching Jose Guillen hold Willits to a single in the third on that ball down the right field line, someone please explain to me why Jason Ellison always comes in to replace GUILLEN in the ninth inning?

    And while we're at it, why are we not seriously considering adding Adam Jones to this roster, despite the fact that Jones is right handed? I have to think that any damage exploited by lefty-righty matchups against Jones -- who is hitting .304 at AAA and hit two more home runs last night to give him nine on the season -- would be overcome by the runs he saves in the outfield.


Weaver is ruining things even when he can't go near a field

I believe this is what Homer Simpson calls "harshing a buzz":

"Got to hand it to Jeff Weaver. He's the first to admit how bad he's been. But he's not looking for any rehabilitation starts in the minors. He threw 70 pitches in a simulated game today, no one in the bleachers got hit by any line drives and the picher later declared that he's ready to take on another starting assignment. Weaver is going to be an issue for this team in coming weeks. He's being paid $8.3 million to pitch here and right now, there is no room for him in the rotation -- assuming Horacio Ramirez isn't seriously hurt."
Seriously -- with all the good vibes surrounding this team right now, do we really have to contemplate Jeff Weaver's potential return to the rotation?

For what it's worth, Baker says Mike Hargrove wants Weaver to make a couple of rehab starts in the minors, ostensibly to buy himself some time to sort out the rotation. My guess is that Hargrove and the organization win out on this one.

Just watched Kenji Johjima hit into a bases-loaded, inning-ending DP. It hurts, but I don't think it'll be the last opportunity the M's have to score runs tonight.

I'll be watching Ryan Feierabend closely tonight. Might be a little much to hope for 6 innings out of the lad, but that's what I'm shooting for. I think he's got it in him. Just struck out the first guy on a pretty nice change-up. We'll see if he gets away with being off the plate all night. My guess is no -- he's going to have to come in a time or two.

Why sometimes it's not all about the money

The debate over whether it's worth it to keep the Sonics so often centers around the economic benefit a professional sports franchise provides to a community -- something that pretty much has been proven to be negligible.

Seth Kolloen over at Enjoy the Enjoyment eloquently shows us that's not the point.

"Even if the Sonics are a drain on the economy, that doesn't mean we shouldn't keep them.

"Economic benefit analyses can't show everything. ... It's an intangible quality-of-life thing -- like playgrounds and opera houses and dog parks. What would be more 'economically beneficial' -- selling Magnuson Park to a developer and turning it into a giant corporate campus, or keeping it as a place to hold surplus library book sales and roller derbies?

"And what's a more compelling argument? Whether you'll be taking your kid to watch Kevin Durant play for the next 15 years or not, or whether we'll have a 4.2% (or whatever) increase in hotel revenue or not? Man, I'm asking lots of rhetorical questions here, but the point is that the debate about the Sonics' arena shouldn't be about economics alone."
Here, here. Couldn't have said it better myself.

Getting a read on Feierabend

Mariners try to go 2-for-2 tonight against the Angels by sending rookie lefty Ryan Feierabend to the mound for his 2007 debut. If you're not familiar with Feierabend (whose name I consistently struggle to spell correctly) you're in luck: I've done your homework for you.

  • Complete prospect breakdown from Prospect Insider. They have him rated as the No. 5 prospect in the M's system. A must read if you want to know what you're going to be watching tonight.
  • A nice little writeup from last year by Jeff Sullivan over at Lookout Landing. He says today that his opinion of him hasn't changed.
  • Feierabend's AAA Tacoma stats, and stats from previous years, including 2006 call-up with the M's.


M's begin set with Angels in best possible fashion with 12-5 win

Wow. That's about all I can say right now.

I actually caught very little of the game, but in perusing the boxscore, things hardly could have gone better tonight. There were the obvious things, such as the huge night by Adrian Beltre -- where has THAT been the past two-and-a-half years? -- but given the importance of sweeping this series, it's a subtler thing that could make the difference over the next two games.

The offensive explosion allowed Hargrove to rest his bullpen, even after yet another shaky outing by Miguel Batista. Although Batista could only get one out into the 6th inning, John Huber and Jason Davis did a fantastic job managing what was a marginal lead before it became a big lead. That means prime relievers Brandon Morrow, George Sherrill and J.J. Putz all will be rested and ready should the M's need some help in a tight game tomorrow -- a strong possibility given the rookie heading to the mound.

After all, with Felix going on Wednesday, tomorrow could prove to be the pivotal game, and the M's are now in prime position to capitalize, something not to be underestimated when in the middle of so many games with no days off.

One down, two to go. Thing could get real interesting in a hurry behind an offense that -- right now -- is one of the best in the majors.

Out for the night

I'm off to do a little Memorial Day barbecuing. I hope to keep relatively decent tabs on the M's so I'll have something insightful to say later tonight or tomorrow. Unless you think I rarely have something insightful to say, and in that case ... why are you here in the first place?


On a roll, M's offense will be key to chances against Angles

First off, sorry about no post yesterday -- I was off working on a project that I hope to tell you more about in the next couple of days. Now, onto our regularly scheduled programming ...

In a post on Friday, I cautioned against getting too wrapped up in a 5-1 road trip against Tampa Bay and Kansas City. And I still believe that whipping up on the two worst teams in the American League is no major accomplishment.

That said, the Mariners now have an opportunity -- for the first time in three years -- to make themselves relevant again.

They head into their Personal Hell for the next three days with what probably will be their last chance to truly become a factor in the AL West this season.

Don't believe me, you who think a 5- or 6-game deficit in June isn't that big of a deal?

Following the M's loss to the Indians to kick off this road trip, they were 5 games back of the Angels. After winning 5 of 6 against the Devil Rays and Royals, Seattle now is ... 4.5 games back.

Win 5 of 6, pick up 1/2 game.

But that's the way it goes in baseball. That's why the loss to the Devil Rays at the end of that series proves so costly -- 3.5 games is so much different than 4.5, because you only have so many opportunities to make up games on teams that are playing .550-.600 baseball. It's darn hard to make up ground. Simple series wins just won't do the trick.

And a series win won't do the trick here, either. While winning two of three will seem like a huge victory -- especially when you've lost 5 of 6 to the Angels this year -- it'll only get you one game in the standings.

No. If the Mariners are truly serious about being relevant, nothing less than a sweep will do.

It's obviously a tall order, especially when you consider they'll be facing Bartolo Colon, Ervin Santana and Jered Weaver, while conversely sending Miguel Batista, rookie Ryan Feierabend (probably) and Felix Hernandez to the mound. Here's how those Angels starters have fared against the M's:

  • Colon: Two starts in 2007, 2-0, 2.57 ERA.
  • Santana: One start in 2007, 1-0, 1.29 ERA.
  • Weaver: No starts in 2007, but 2-1 with 2.89 ERA in three starts last year.
Like I said, a tall order. But if you want to run with the best, you've got to beat the best, and if that's going to happen, the offense has to show up over these next three days. It's great to score tons of runs against some of the worst pitching in the majors, but everyone does that. They've got to score some runs against the best pitching staff in the division -- something they've absolutely failed to do this year. Beating the crud out of Gil Meche, who has been a real effective pitcher this year (much to the dismay of Mariners fans), might be an indication the offense is ready to take that next step. We'll see.

So, while it's great to beat up on the weak sisters of the league, at some point you have to prove that you belong. Sweep this series, and you're just 1.5 back.

How good can this team be this year? We're about to find out.

Sweep the Angels, and I'll believe anything's possible.

Around the 'Net: Beat writer takes M's management to task

Seattle Times M's beat writer Geoff Baker continues to show why he was a great hire by the paper after Bob Sherwin retired last year. The guy just gets how a blog can enhance his coverage of the team, and his is the best blog to come Seattle fans' way since Mike Sando's Seahawks Insider.

But where Sando mostly sticks to straight reporting with solid analysis (and with good reason), Baker often will veer into commentary -- a welcome stance in the day-to-day duldrums of the marathon of a 162-game season.

Yesterday, he took the M's management to task for not just putting Cha Seung Baek in the rotation to begin the year, analysis I think was spot on.

Baker doesn't claim to have known that Baek would be so effective, and neither do I. But he says that those who get paid to see these things coming should have, and that's as much of an indictment on GM Bill Bavasi and the M's front office than anything else: They just have been absolutely abysmal at evaluating talent and the relative value of said talent.

"Hard to believe the Mariners did not want [Baek] in their starting rotation to begin the year," Baker writes. "I mean, that 4-1 record last fall, did anybody see it? Baek had fifth starter material written all over him. I can understand the temptation to throw $8.3 million at Jeff Weaver. Theoretically, he could have been an improvement had he pitched like he did for St. Louis in the post season.

"Could have, but didn't. So, the team is out $8 million and finally has the right guy in the rotation. Should the M's be criticized for this? Absolutely. They underestimated Baek's talent and overestimated Weaver's. And cost their owner big bucks, not to mention all those lost games.

"Sure, it's hindsight. But plenty of people in that front office are paid top dollar to make accurate assessments. A Mariners team with three rotation vacancies could have saved itself plenty of headaches by filling one of those spots with a no-brainer internal move. That way, perhaps, the team could have been a little more discriminating with how it went about plugging the remaining two openings. Instead, they've got two underperformers on the DL and Miguel Batista."
Ouch. But right on.

Here are some other interesting things I ran across while surfing the 'Net on this lazy Sunday afternoon:
  • Caron Butler is a stud. Not that I think athletes should do stuff like this all the time -- they have lives, just like we do -- but how much better of a place would our world be if more athletes realized how they can make someone's day with the simplest of gestures? How can you not read this and not think Butler is a great guy?
  • A little Ichiro note to make you laugh, in case you missed it, courtesy M's Insider Larry LaRue.
  • The Cougars continue to make inroads in basketball recruiting, showing they might not just be a flash in the pan under coach Tony Bennett. Getting Michael Harthun isn't exactly like landing Spencer Hawes or Quincy Pondexter, but it's a far cry from landing B-listers like Nick Graham and Justin Lyman ...


In case you missed it ...

... Rashard Lewis officially opted out of the final two years of his contract with the Sonics, a move expected by everyone. He becomes a free agent, and the Sonics say they want to re-sign him despite the fact that he and Durant essentially play the same position. (I agree; I'll talk a little more in the coming days about how these two might fit together.)

... the Mariners whupped on the Royals tonight, 10-2 -- including 7 satisfying runs against Gil Meche. The city has now exhaled, knowing that King Felix left the game with just a stiff back. No reason to believe he'll miss any time.

... Ken Griffey Jr. hit homer No. 574, as he continues to march toward his return to Safeco Field on June 22. I'll be there, by the way.

Upon further consideration, M's making right move with Mateo

Mariners' pitcher Julio Mateo has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons this year -- blowing games and allegedly assaulting his wife -- so more than a few eyebrows raised when the M's decided on Wednesday to activate Mateo from the AAA inactive list and allow him to join the Rainiers.

I'll admit: My first reaction when the news of the alleged assault came out was to dump him -- and while we're being honest, it probably had something to do with the fact that he had been a terrible pitcher this year. My second reaction was similar when I found out the Seattle Police Department had been called to his house one week earlier, and that had nothing to do with his ineffectiveness on the mound.

And it was my third reaction when I heard he was activated only after his domestic violence counselor suggested that a return to the workplace might be "beneficial" for Mateo. As if playing baseball were somehow good for him, leading to my next thought: "I wonder what kind of 'beneficial' treatment Mateo's wife has gotten lately ..."

But John McGrath wrote a column in The (Tacoma) News Tribune this morning that got me thinking. His piece doesn't necessarily laud the decision, but it certainly doesn't criticize it, either.

Once I got past my initial righteous indignation -- after all, we always want a head to roll, especially when it's a guy who makes a million bucks to throw a ball while the rest of us slog through our $40,000 a year jobs -- I really started to try and think of Mateo as a person. No, he doesn't have a constiutional right to play professional sports, but the ultimate goal should not be to punish him -- it should be to help him not continue to be a wife beater.

Does it not make sense, then, that the organization that knows him best and can care for him and help him rehabilitate best should try to do that?

It's not like this guy is getting a free pass. Anyone who's spent any amount of time around minor league baseball knows that even AAA is a far cry from the majors. And it's not like there's anything really in this for the organization; there are a dozen guys just like Mateo out there to be had for a minimal price.

No, the benefit here is the opportunity to forgive -- and potentially change the course of a family. Mateo's got two kids with his wife, and also cares for the five children of his brother, who died in a car accident last year. The impact stretches beyond Mateo.

Ultimately, this might not change anything. Mateo, who promises to make the most of his second chance, might end up right back where he was three weeks ago. If this doesn't work, and he ends up back in a police booking room, they can always cut him then.

But doesn't it make sense to at least try?

This is why the Mariners will not contend for ANYTHING

The last three years, none of us have expected anything from this team. They stunk, and we all knew it. And I think we all thought they would stink again this year, too -- only, they happen to play in the worst division in baseball and have improved their talent level just enough to tantalize us.

Thursday's 13-12 loss to the Devil Rays is the perfect example of why this should be mantra for the next four-plus months, Mariners fans:

Enjoy baseball. Watch the Mariners.

Just be smart and don't get sucked in.

The reality is that teams that expect to contend don't do what the Mariners did yesterday in Tampa Bay. Everything was laid out for them to complete a sweep and make a move. The Rays are terrible and they were sending a terrible pitcher to the mound. The Angels were on the way to losing two of three to the Tigers, giving the Mariners a golden opportunity to make up two games in two days.

And they crapped all over themselves. In spectacular fashion.

It's not so much that they lost; it's the way they lost. Contending teams don't go out with a chance to sweep the worst team in the American League and allow 10 runs in the first three innings -- injury to starting pitcher (who allowed three runs in the first inning, incidentally) or not. Contending teams do not get guys thrown out at the plate twice in the same game -- once with no outs and down by six runs. Contending teams do not watch their No. 3 hitter go 4-for-5 one night then 0-for-6 with 6 LOB the next.

Contending teams rip the hearts out of weaker opponents. Yes, the Mariners battled yesterday, but contending teams never get in that kind of a hole in the first place. They take a sweep when golden opportunities to do so are presented to them.

They do not miss out on golden opportunities to make up ground on the team they're trying to catch.

This is not to say that the season is completely lost. Ostensibly, the M's are going to be a very entertaining team to watch this summer as some of the hitters who normally heat up with the weather start to get hot. With Felix, Washburn and Baek pitching the next three games, they might even roll into Kansas City and sweep the Royals to make this a 5-1 trip heading into Los Angeles on Monday.

But 4-2 is a lot more likely, and they'll be needing a sweep of the Angels to make up any kind of serious ground on the Angels, who, by the way, they've lost 5 of 6 to. Series wins feel good, but going 2-1 series after series only works if you mix in some sweeps along the way as the 2001 M's did on their way to 116. The 2007 Mariners don't have one yet. (At least, not the three-or-more-game variety.)

No, to make some real noise, teams have to rip off five- or six-game winning streaks. And not just one. The reality is that this team doesn't have that in them, not with the way the pitching staff is composed. Horacio Ramirez and Jeff Weaver have been well-documented disasters, it's unreasonable to expect Baek to do much more than he's already done, and there's not a lot of help down on the farm. The M's also have practically no commodities to try and pick up some major-league ready pitching help in a trade.

My advice? Just relax and enjoy each game for what it's worth and don't allow yourself to get wrapped up in talk of the playoffs.

Because it's crazy talk.

Oh, and one more thing.


Going to the Seahawks this fall? Don't count on getting a Coke

In one of the more head-scratching notes of the morning, Jones Soda Co. is now the official soft-drink supplier of Qwest Field, supplanting mighty Coke.

It can be considered a mild coup for Seattle-based Jones (NASDAQ: JSDA), to beat out such soda giants as Coca-Cola and Pepsi for the Qwest Field rights, and fans at the game won't be able to buy a Coke next year when watching the Seahawks at home.

Coca-Cola Co., the previous exclusive soda at Qwest Field, has had a relationship with the Seahawks "on and off for the past 20 years," according to Susan Stribling, spokeswoman for the Atlanta soft drink company (NYSE: KO). Coca-Cola's Dasani water brand also won't be available at Qwest Field anymore, she added.
I've never actually had a Jones Soda -- mostly I just stare at their wacky flavors and interesting label photos when I walk downt he soda aisle at Safeway -- so I'm not sure I can tell you exactly what this means. I do know that they switched recently to making all their soda with pure cane sugar, to much fanfare.

I can just picture it now: "Can I get a large FuFu Berry soda and a small Blue Bubble Gum to go with my hot dog and nachos?"

"Jones Soda scores upset at Qwest" [Seattle Times]
"Jones Soda CEO's journey from fruit stand to soda pop king" [Seattle P-I]

Something to make you smile on a Friday morning

In an earlier post about the Sonics, I asked if anyone was good with Photoshop. Well, apparently someone is REAL good. Thanks, Mike, for passing this along.


More advice on getting involved with grassroots effort to keep Sonics

My buddy Mike, who works for the Sonics, had this to add to my advice on how to get involved with keeping the Sonics here. He originally posted this in the comments, but it's good, so it's getting top billing!

He's right when he says Rep. Frank Chopp is the key to this thing at least getting started -- the way our screwy legislature works, if this guy (the speaker of the House) doesn't want a bill to come up for a vote, it doesn't, and it dies. He also wields a lot of influence with other representatives; if he's behind a bill, so are a lot of other reps. Totally unfair, but as another legislator once told me, the system is stacked so most bills have no chance. You can contact Chopp here.

Anyway, heeeeeeere's Mikey!


If at all possible, try to get your letters/emails to Frank Chopp as well. I don't know if it is quite as easy, but he really is the gatekeeper in this process. If a long term solution gets done, it is going to be largely due to the grassroots effort -- by Sonics fans themselves. The Sonics as an organization are willing/desiring to put it to a vote. Even if it initially doesn't get the majority it needs, at least it gets the negotiation started.

The organization still believes it originally had sufficient support in legislation, but was Chopp Blocked! So now we need to flood our local legislation and Frank Chopp himself to get the juices flowing once again. Kevin Durant has sparked the masses, and with a rejuvenated fan-base it could/should be enough to get something done.

Briefly tell them about your experiences with the Seattle Sonics -- hit on the emotional -- because they are not going to listen to the economical/political stances! Unfortunately, the Seatle Sonics as an organization, can't really play the "sentimental card" too well. Regardless of how it is put out there, it would come across negatively... but if its from the fans -- it's authentic!!

Biggest ways to support -- buy up tickets and show up for the games! Next year we are going to see the college player of the year- 43 times!!! I would have paid huge money to watch a single Texas game last year, and now we have him in our backyard for 43 games a year!!! Regardless of the long-term, come out and enjoy the show next season!

Just as big -- be vocal and positive about keeping the Sonics here! If you are disinterested and truly feel that there are better things to spend your time and money on -- then go do that. Unless you have a personal agenda against keeping the team here, why waste everyone's time vocalizing your negativity? Until the other day, I was a big fan of Jim Moore ... does he really have nothing else to write about? Jim Moore in my books is officially "Debbie Downer".

More from Seattle Sonics draft HQ

Here are some more captured stills from the Sonics draft party referenced earlier. I've got just a few more thoughts:

  1. I'm pretty sure that poor lady in the blue shirt is still sitting on the ground while everyone else is jumping up and down because she just wet herself at the realization that she now has a 60 percent better chance of keeping her job.
  2. Where in the heck did they come up with a Kevin Durant jersey? Did somebody there know something none of us knew?
  3. Who is the guy kissing the Durant jersey, and how did he get to be the lucky one to christen it?
  4. The biggest question of all, though: Where can I buy one of those Durant jerseys? I want one right now.

Let me be the first to say ... Portland sucks!

The sports talk radio airwaves were still abuzz yesterday afternoon with the talk of Kevin Durant likely coming to the Sonics. One of the radio hosts said that the No. 1 and No. 2 pick playing in the same division in two towns in the same region separated by less than 200 miles should lead to what has been a long-dormant rivalry.

My guess is, when the good citizens of Redheaded Stepchild Of The Northwest see this video, it might get ratcheted up even a notch further. Yes, that's the Sonics' employees you hear chanting for Portland to get the No. 3 pick, moments before the Hawks were revealed, to much rejoicing (photo, right).

What I love is that don't even bother to say, "Not the Sonics," which is all that really matters. They just fire a shot right across the bow of the Blazers. Makes me swell with Seattle pride.

The simple reality is that Portland wouldn't be much of a team if it weren't for big brother Seattle to take care of it. After all, we all saw what Portland could do when left to its own devices -- watch out for those Jailblazers!


  • Billionnaire owner of the team? From Seattle, made his billions in Seattle.
  • Coach of the team? Spent entire playing career with the Sonics. Had number retired by the Sonics. Former coach of the Sonics. Family still lives in Seattle.
  • Star of the team, savior of the franchise? Seattle high school and college basketball legend.
  • Top pick the year before? Seattle high school star.
Portland can try to be like us by importing our stars; it might even try to upstage us by actually having a useful light rail system downtown.

But it will never be Seattle, no matter how hard it tries.


Finally, someone agrees with me! (It's a rarity, trust me)

You might remember a post I did about a month ago detailing the futility of the Mariners' offense and why it is impossible for it to achieve any sustained success, centered around the fact that it's a poorly composed lineup full of hackers.

Apparently, I'm not alone. And this is a good thing.

Guest columnist Seth Kolloen -- of Seattlest fame -- reiterates a lot of the points I made, in this morning's Seattle P-I.

STATS Inc. tracks how many pitches MLB hitters see per plate appearance. In 2003, the year before Bill Bavasi became GM, Mariners hitters saw 3.81 pitches per plate appearance -- fourth-most in the American League. ...

Since then, Mariners hitters have seen fewer pitches every year. Last year, the Mariners ranked 10th in the AL, seeing only 3.70 pitches per plate appearance. ... In 2007, the Mariners' pitches per plate appearance has plummeted to 3.55, last in the American League. ...

Here's the problem: Patience isn't just about earning walks, it's about driving up the pitch counts of opposing starters, seeing them off to the showers, and pummeling the squishy belly of every team's pitching staff -- the middle relief.

The Mariners have knocked out a starter before the seventh inning only 11 times this season. That's the worst in the American League -- the Red Sox and Indians have done it 24 times each. Those teams score more runs not necessarily because they have better hitters, but because they are facing less talented pitchers.
And, just as I did, Seth lays the blame squarely on Bill Bavasi's shoulders. The problem with that, though, is that there are no easy fixes -- firing Mike Hargrove isn't going to change the fact that Yuniesky Betancourt thinks an eye-high fastball is his bread-and-butter.

Beyond that, the two guys who aren't the problem -- Ichiro and Jose Guillen -- are free agents at the end of the year. The rest of the guys are either young and locked up for the next four years, or old and locked up for the next two at a high salary. It's going to be next to impossible for whoever the next GM is to remake this lineup quickly.

That said, though, it might only take changing out a piece or two to change the complextion of the lineup. After all, you can have a few hackers -- just not a lineup full of them. If the next GM chooses wisely and works some shrewd deals, the offense might not be that far off.

But don't expect things to get markedly better this year. Watching these Mariners will be an exercise in frustration all summer long. You might as well get used to it.

Oh, and by the way: Kolloen has a new blog dedicated to the Seattle sports scene. Check it out when you get a chance -- it's definitely worth a read.

For the first time in a long time, it feels good to be a Sonics fan

I was on my way home from work at about 6 o'clock last night when I remembered that the draft lottery had taken place about 15 minutes before. I turned off the iPod and flipped over to KJR, only to hear the host and Seattle SuperSonics broadcaster Kevin Callabro talking about Kevin Durant.

As a Seattle sports fan used to disappointment, doubt washed over me until they came right out and said what I had until that point refused to believe actually could be true: That the Sonics had won the right to select one of the two bona fide superstars in this draft.

I can't remember when the last time was I truly was excited about the Sonics -- probably 1996 -- but I can tell you this.

Today, I am excited.

Really, really, really excited.

When people talk about the 2007 draft lottery as a seminal point in the Sonics franchise, they are not overestimating the value of what happened last night. Jerry West, one of the foremost talent evaluators in NBA history, put it this way:

"There have been a lot of picks in the lottery that have [failed]. There are two in the lottery this year that are not going to fail. There are two superstars in the draft. I think for the teams fortunate enough to get them, the fortunes of their franchises have changed forever."
This, my friends, comes from a man not prone to overstatement. Greg Oden and Kevin Durant are that good, and one of them will be playing for the Sonics next season -- probably Durant. Although it wouldn't shock me completely if Portland took Durant, and they will consider it, I think they'd be crazy to pass on a superstar big man. (Besides, it would be just like Portland, the redheaded stepchild of the Northwest, to take the 19-year-old who looks like he's 48. Just look at that mug. They're both 19. Really.)

Either way, there's no second guessing the pick and no screwing it up: The Sonics will get a player who figures to be a star for years to come. Callabro even said he believes it makes the Sonics instant playoff contenders, given the talent already on the roster and the injuries that sabotaged them last year.

But beyond what Durant will do for the team on the court, it's possible the Sonics finally got a little bit of that same fairy dust that kept the Mariners here after 1995. The lament of our legislature was that there just wasn't a buzz about the Sonics, no groundswell of support from the constituency.

Well, there's a buzz now.

I'll have a couple of more posts up later today: What you can do to get on board with keeping the Sonics here, and what this means for the team on the court. In the meantime, revel away at the thought of Kevin Durant in a Sonics uniform.

Anyone handy with Photoshop?

Here's what local columnists are saying:

How you can get on board with Saving Our Sonics

I'll admit, I was one of the many Sonics fans that felt pretty defeated by the events of the last year. And I'm a little ashamed to admit that my feelings of defeat led to virtual inaction on my part.

As my buddy Mikey -- who, not so coincidentally, works for the Sonics -- accurately pointed out, I've only written one post on the Sonics in the past year or so, and even that wasn't exactly a ringing endorsement of optimism.

Well, consider me a changed man. Just as the Mariners' fortune changed in the most unlikely of three-month spans, so too can the Sonics' fortune -- if fans and ownership are savvy enough to capitalize on the momentum.

Enter the most powerful force out there: You.

You have the power to influence your elected officials. You have the power to convince them that there truly are some residents of the state of Washington that really want to see the team stay. As the Mariners showed, it doesn't need to be an overwhelming majority for it to happen -- just enough to give the team's lobbyists a foot in the door.

As a place to start, here's a list of "Do's and Don'ts" from Save Our Sonics that will give you some ideas. The biggest thing you can do
right now is contact your state representation, which holds the power over whether the current stadium tax is extended to pay for the new arena.

Here's how to do it -- it's not nearly as intimidating or difficult as you might think:

  1. Find your legislators here by filling out the appropriate information.
  2. This will take you to a page with links to all three of your elected representatives. Make sure you follow the next steps for each of them.
  3. On the official's home page, click the "e-mail" link under the photo.
  4. Fill out the appropriate information. (Your e-mail has a much better chance of being read and responded to if it comes from someone verified to be in their district. E-mails directly to them without using this system often either never get read, or get read much, much later.)
  5. Write a letter. It can be long, or it can be simple. Writing to a legislator can be a scary thing for a lot of people, but you don't have to be the best writer in the world to get your point across.
  6. Copy the text of the letter. Repeat steps 3 through 5 for the other two elected officials.
As someone who's done this before, here are some tips for your letter:
  • Be concise. Legislators don't have a lot of time (although they've got a lot more of it this time of year) and you're a lot more likely to be read if you make your points quickly and easily.
  • Be respectful. Trust me when I tell you that a little respect goes a long way with these people. From Save Our Sonics: "If the official you are communicating with has been negative about keeping the Sonics & Storm in the area, do not insult them or be rude if you want them to consider your opinion. Express disappointment at their stance, make some well-reasoned points, and tell them you hope they will re-examine their stance."
  • Be heartfelt. You don't have to be the most eloquent person in the world to show your passion. Speak from personal experience, and don't use form letters you find elsewhere. Speak from the heart.
  • Urge action. Don't just say you like the Sonics -- tell them what you want them to do.
I hope this helps. We Sonics fans have a golden opportunity to capitalize on what could be a franchise-changing event. I don't know about you, but I sure as heck don't want to see Kevin Durant playing for my Sonics in a different city.

This city has been given the mulligan of mulligans with the draft pick. It's up to us to work to make it happen.


Comments back up and running

Had a little bit of a snafu with the comments on some of the posts -- that's been fixed now. So if you wanted to comment on a post ... comment away to your heart's content.

I'll be posting on the Supes later tonight or tomorrow. Holy crap. If this doesn't get the ball rolling on an arena, nothing will.


How the Mariners killed the Golden Goose

I heard it reported last week that the Mariners were disappointed by the turnout for the series with the Angels -- average attendance 21,529 -- given the gravity of the series with the first place team in the A.L. West.

Only one thing surprises me about this: That the Seattle Mariners leadership didn't see this coming.

Then again, given the way they've completely mismanaged the team since 2002, nothing should surprise me.

The thing that galls me the most about the Mariners -- and from here until the end of this post, when I say "Mariners," what I really mean is Mariners management -- is that they think they're special. That they can stave off the inevitable with clever marketing campaigns ("You gotta love these guys!") and a world-class ballpark experience.

In the end, none of that trumps what happens on the field.

We Seattle sports fans are a funny lot. We can be among the most enthusiastic in the country, and we start out trusting our teams completely and selflessly. Until they break our trust. And when they break our trust, it's a looooooooong time before that trust comes back.

Once upon a time, the Seahawks, Sonics and Huskies all thought they were pretty special, too. Then they all screwed up our trust in one way or another.

  • Ken Behring allowed the Seahawks to bottom out with a two-win season in 1992, then threatened to move the franchise to Los Angeles. Only a Super Bowl appearance restored the team's once lofty position in Seattle sports fandom.
  • The Sonics had this town captivated in the '90s, only to watch it implode behind a series of ill-advised contracts that set the franchise back for years. They have yet to recover, and probably will move to another city before they do.
  • Even UW football -- once thought to be untouchable -- has proven not to be immune. Inept recruiting has done what not even probation could do: Kept the rabid "Dawg" fans at home. (The Huskies averaged 57,482 fans in a 72,500-seat stadium.)
The funny thing is that it's not so much the losing that gets us. After all, Seahawks fans came out year after year for the first 15 years of the franchise, despite the team only posting a winning record five times. The Huskies went through some tough years (by their standards) after being put on probation by the NCAA in the mid-90s, yet UW fans continued to give their team one of the greatest home-field advantages in the Pac-10. As you can see from the chart below, even the Mariners sustained very good attendance numbers despite their swift decline -- better than any 63-win team had a right to expect.

To me, it has a lot more to do with how we perceive our teams that are part of the public trust are being managed for us. And there is absolutely no trust right now when it comes to the M's. I see this everyday on sites such as Lookout Landing and U.S.S. Mariner, where every move is second-guessed. On the flip side, I look at Seahawks Insider, where fans are quick to defend every move made by Tim Ruskell and company. That's the trust the Seahawks have earned, and it's what the Mariners should be looking to get back.

The situation is probably more bleak than the Mariners realize. As documented before, it took years before Seahawks fans came all the way back; simply winning doesn't cure all ills. The team made the playoffs two consecutive years in 2003 and 2004, yet still was struggling to sell out all eight home dates. The chart below seems to suggest the same thing for the M's.

Despite win totals that have increased each of the past three seasons (shown in red) -- and a team that appears better this year than it has been -- attendance has declined each year (shown in blue). The trend is striking, given that wins and attendance had gone hand in hand every year since 1995.

How to explain this? Trust has been broken, and we have no hope that this team is going to get better anytime soon.

The Mariners are saddled with multiple albatross-like contracts for players that are severely underperforming (Richie Sexson, Adrian Beltre, Miguel Batista), much of the young talent (Yuniesky Betancourt, Jose Lopez) isn't proving to be anything special, the team's lone superstar (Ichiro) has one foot out the door, and most of the team's prospects are at least one year away -- probably two or three for most of them.

Almost two years ago, Mariners President Chuck Armstrong told Seattle Times baseball writer Larry Stone the organization wouldn't consider an Indians-style dismantling of the team.
"It's incumbent on us — me, Bill (Bavasi), the baseball guys — to try to get the kind of players that will get this turned around as quickly as we can, as opposed to embarking on the Cleveland approach," Armstrong said. "Cleveland has such a nice little ballclub, yet we're averaging 10,000 more a game. We think we have a compact with the fans — ownership does."
Here's the difference, though, between Cleveland and Seattle: The Indians had a team that could have been a viable World Series contender for a number of years, yet the ownership chose to blow it up in a cost-cutting move. The Mariners would have been doing it during the normal cycle of a sports franchise, jettisoning their over the hill players to stockpile the farm system.

Had the organization considered such a move three years ago, here's what would have happened, in terms of attendance: The exact same thing! The residual effect of 2001 -- when fan trust was at an all-time high -- would have carried them through the lean years, as fans held out hope that the franchise would turn the corner. Had they not turned the corner, they'd be faced with the same prospects they're faced with now.

Instead, what we have is a team that has been patchworked together year after year with bloated free agent contracts in an attempt to continue to lure the "loyal" fanbase to Safeco Field -- a team with no future and no staying power.

Worse times are ahead for this franchise, which is in desperate need of new management if for no ther reason than to give a dwindling fan base a reason to hope. The Mariners have been saying for three years that they want to get it turned around before it's too late.

I got news for them.

It already is.

They killed the Golden Goose.

Some things are just funny

Click Here for more great videos and pictures!

You know, I generally like to give you some kind of insightful analysis of the sports world here, but sometimes funny is just funny. Enjoy.

Poor guy. Not sure how he held it together for 90 seconds.


Bad, bad weekend for the Mariners

The only way this could have been worse is if the Mariners had been swept by the Padres. Both the games they lost were very winnable, especially today's, when the tying and go-ahead runs reached base with no outs in the ninth ... only to be stranded after two pop-ups and a strikeout.

I'm not going to break down the weekend, because I really didn't get to watch much, except for the second half of today's game.

But I will say this.

Everyone keeps talking about how no one is going to run away with the AL West, but don't look now: Today's loss puts the Mariners five back of the Angels, who swept the Dodgers. It doesn't seem like much -- and I don't the the Angels or A's will run away with it, not with their pitiful offenses -- but the M's have been steadily losing ground in the division, and that's not a good sign.

One of the major problems with the Mariners this year has been the performance of the middle of the order. It's been more or less punchless for the better part of the year, given that Jose Vidro, Raul Ibanez and Richie Sexson occupied the 3-4-5 spots for the bulk of the season. Hargrove tried to rectify it by moving each man up one spot, and it worked short term.

But Ibanez and Sexson continued to struggle to drive in runs. Sexson just looks completely lost at the plate -- capped by him taking a fastball thigh high and right down the middle of the plate for his third strikeout on Friday -- and it probably was wise of Hargrove to give him a couple of days of.

Ibanez, I think, is a different story. He has the classic look of a guy who's just plain old, and Jeff Sullivan over at Lookout Landing does a tremendous job of backing up that assertion here. Here's to hoping he's been fighting this back injury all year, and that's the reason for the sudden dropoff. But the words "35-year-old outfielder" and "back spasms" appearing in the same sentence usually doesn't make you real confident that a few days of rest are going to turn things around.

Anyway, maybe they can make some hay on the road against Tampa Bay and Kansas City, but I'm not optimistic. And I guess it's just this general pessimism that has me so bothered. I want to believe that this team can be something. But it just keeps disappointing me.


Giambi tries, but he just doesn't get it

In what has to be the coincidence of coincidences given yesterday's post, admitted steroid user Jason Giambi is the subject of a pair of stories on steroid use this morning in the USA Today.

The story that's getting all the play is Giambi calling for baseball to apologize for allowing the steroid era to happen, which also includes his closest public admission of steroid use yet. (You'll remember that Giambi made his initial "apology" a couple of years ago.)

"I was wrong for doing that stuff," Giambi told USA TODAY on Wednesday before playing the Chicago White Sox. "What we should have done a long time ago was stand up — players, ownership, everybody — and said: 'We made a mistake.'

"We should have apologized back then and made sure we had a rule in place and gone forward. … Steroids and all of that was a part of history. But it was a topic that everybody wanted to avoid. Nobody wanted to talk about it."

To me, though, the more interesting story is Giambi's defense of Bonds and his pursuit of the home run record -- something that seems to be gaining popularity in player circles.
Giambi won't say whether he believes Bonds ever took steroids or human growth hormone, but he's convinced that no drug is responsible for Bonds' extraordinary career.

"Barry is one of the greatest players, if not the greatest, I'll ever see play," says Giambi, who has hit 355 career home runs. "I know people have a tough time accepting it, but what he's doing is unbelievable. And I don't care what people say — nothing is going to give you that gift of hitting a baseball.

"It's the same thing for Barry. If it were that easy, how come you don't see anyone else doing what he has done?"
Although I believe Giambi's heart is in the right place, he is missing the point entirely.

It's not that steroids give you some kind of magical ability; I can take all the steroids I want, and I'm still not going to be a professional athlete. But I will be a bigger, faster, stronger version of myself that would be a better softball or pickup basketball player. That's why they call them "performance enhancing drugs": They take what you have and make it better.

And that's what happened with Bonds. He already was one of the most gifted athletes of our generation -- steroids made him better, especially at a point in his career when he should have been declining. Instead, his ability to hit a ball over the fence reached levels it never had been at any point in his career. Bonds is the only player in the HISTORY of ANY of our sports to become a better player in his late 30s than he was in his late 20s. THE ONLY ONE.

Yes, Giambi and Ortiz are correct: A player still has to hit a baseball, undoubtedly the most difficult task to accomplish in all of sports. Steroids cannot create a swing.

But when that swing, which already was one of the best in the game, is kept from its normal course of deterioration by drugs that make your muscles stronger, faster and more durable -- let's not forget, one of steroids' greatest qualities is the ability it gives a body to recover from strenuous activity (such as a baseball game) -- well, we all know what you get.

Barry Lamar Bonds, home run fraud.


After reading 'Game of Shadows,' I'm conviced Bonds is a cheat

So I just finished "Game of Shadows," the definitive account of the BALCO steroids scandal by San Francisco Chronicle reporters Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada, and I now know two things for certain:

  1. Barry Bonds absolutely and undeniably used steroids at least from 1999-2004;


  2. You are not allowed to have an opinion on Bonds, his alleged steroid use or his pursuit of the all-time home run record unless you've read this book.
I say this because the evidence presented in "Game of Shadows" is so thorough, so varied and so well presented that I don't believe there's any reasonable person who can reach the conclusion that Bonds didn't use steroids.

I always hear people say that Bonds has never tested positive for steroids, and that's reason enough to believe him when he says he never used them (or at least give him the benefit of the doubt). But I think that argument is ridiculous -- that's like saying you can't get a murder conviction without a body and the murder weapon. There is such a thing as circumstantial evidence, and Williams and Fainaru-Wada present plenty of it.

However, there are two things that stand out in my mind as the most convincing reasons why I'm confident Bonds used steroids extensively.

Amid the doping calendars and testimony by confidants, there's one especially damning piece of evidence discovered in the BALCO investigation by the feds: A pair of steroid blood tests ordered on behalf of Bonds by Victor Conte and BALCO. Why is this significant? It's the same thing Conte would do for all the track stars he was supplying with steroids to make sure they wouldn't ever flunk a drug test.

Why would Bonds ever need a test specifically designed to see if there were any steroids in his system if he wasn't taking steroids? The only plausible explanation is that he was trying to make sure he'd beat whatever test came his way, just like the track stars.

Second -- and most telling in my mind -- is that Bonds elected not to sue the authors for libel, as the statute of limitations in California ran out a couple of months ago. While libel can be difficult for public figures such as Bonds to prove, it's not impossible, and trust me when I say he'd have a pretty good case against Williams and Fainaru-Wada -- if, indeed, what's in the book is false.

The reason for his decision not to sue can be one of only two things. Option 1: The authors are telling the truth. Option 2: Libel suits result in an awful lot of digging into a plaintiff's past; Bonds has skeletons in his closet -- liikely related to steroids -- he just doesn't want to see the light of day.

Neither reflects well on Bonds.

So where does this leave baseball?

Well, first off, Bud Selig basically has screwed his sport by waiting so long to do anything about it. The authors use Black Sox scandal commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis as an example of how a commish can clean up his sport, and while I know Selig has nowhere near that kind of power today, he certainly could have stood up to Bonds and the other cheaters years ago.

If Selig had any guts, he would have banned Bonds, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield and others from baseball years ago, when all of this evidence came to light. He would have sent a clear message that steroids won't be tolerated. Now, he's relegated to hiding from the issue, sitting the corner with his fingers in his ears singing "la la la la la la la la la la" and pretending it all goes away.

If you read "Game of Shadows" and decide that there's just not enough evidence to "convict" Bonds and the others, so be it. If you finish and decide that Bonds did it, but didn't really do anything wrong, given that it wasn't against baseball rules -- never mind the fact that it's a federal crime to possess and use steroids without a prescription -- I can't change your mind on that.

But come to those conclusions only after considering all the evidence. You owe yourself that much as a sports fan.


Sorry about that!

I know I said I'd have a post up on Sunday, but hey -- it was my wife's first Mother's Day! Then today, I was in training all day and away from a computer, only to emerge to 70 and sunny ... good time to get the lawn mowed and cars washed.

I'll try to get some Mariners thoughts up tomorrow. I also finished reading Game of Shadows yesterday, so I'll have some thoughts on that and Barry Bonds.

Thanks for stopping by.


Off to watch the M's; blog on hiatus until Sunday

I'm on my way to catch my first game at Safeco Field this year, and it hopefully will be a good one.

I'll be getting back late tonight and away from an Internet connection all day tomorrow, so I'll try to post some thoughts on Sunday. Have a great weekend!


It only took 29 games, but M's finally put it together

You know how a lot of people use the word "literally" wrong all the time? As in, "He literally dropped a bomb in the room," or "I literally crapped my pants when I heard that!"

Well, I can tell you I'm being accurate and it's not even a little bit of an overstatement when I say that I've literally been waiting all season for last night's 9-2 beatdown of Detroit. It wasn't just that the Mariners won; it was the way they did it, with a complete dismantling of what had been the hottest team in the majors.

All year long, the M's have tantalized us with bits and pieces of good performances -- just enough pitching or hitting to squeak out games here and there and keep their record around .500, even while getting blown out in a bunch on a fairly regular basis. In the midst of it all, there was this persistant thought that if they could somehow get it together, that if certain guys could start playing to their potential, this team might be capable of finally giving this town something to be excited about.

Last night might have been the start of that.

Nobody expected much out of this team when it embarked on this road trip, and the 3-5 mark with which it came home won't exactly light up the talk radio airwaves with excitement. But I saw a lot of things to be excited about on this trip, especially in the last three days in Detroit.

After 26 games, but Mike Hargrove finally showed a willingness to tinker with a lineup that was unbelievably ineffective. Moving Richie Sexson up to the cleanup spot is what's going to get all the attention, since he responded in the first two games by going 3-for-7 with a homer, 4 runs and 4 RBIs.

But for my money, the more important move was getting Jose Vidro up into that No. 2 spot. His .303 average and .346 OBP have been solid, but his .361 slugging percentage is what we in baseball jargon call piss poor for a No. 3 hitter. However, moved up one spot, he now becomes the guy who can move Ichiro around to third, or score him after a steal. Good move by Hargrove, pretty much no matter who's batting third or fourth.

(Although, we'll go ahead and say we like Raul Ibanez -- Bret Boone nosedive and all -- hitting there a lot better than Kenji Johjima, who seems to be in a "how fast can I put the ball in play" contest when he's batting up there.)

Speaking of Sexson, although it's tempting to laugh at an athlete who blames luck for his poor performance, when he says that he's really been unlucky so far this year, he's not just rationalizing -- the numbers back him up. He has a career .303 BABIP (what's BABIP?), yet this year it's just .164 (and that's after the last two games). That means that, in his career, three out of every 10 balls Sexson puts in play that aren't home runs end up as hits. This year, a lot of those balls are finding gloves (like that rocket to Magglio Ordonez on Tuesday).

Additionally, even though is OBP is an abysmal .280, his walk-to-strikeout ratio is significantly higher than it has been the past two years (.58 vs. .42 and .53), and his strikeout rate is down (23.5 percent) -- meaning he's not lying when he says he got a good approach at the plate.

So, while Hargrove probably will look like a genius for moving Sexson to the cleanup spot just as he starts to produce, keep in mind that it's really more of a stroke of dumb luck that the move coincides with Sexson's increased production, rather than any kind of smart managerial move that "got Richie going."

The bottom line is that the offense produced pretty darn well against three very good starting pitchers in Detroit, and that gives me hope that this team might yet contend. The Mariners easily could have won the first game of the series if it weren't for that farce of a pitcher fans call "THAT'S all we @!#!??@ got back for Rafael Soriano?" (more on that later), they beat up on a left-handed pitcher that had a 2.78 ERA before last night, and piled up 12 hits in a game started by Justin Verlander, even if they could't convert them into runs or a win.

All in all, I find myself encouraged and excited for this weekend's matchup with the Yankees. I think anything less than two out of three will be a huge disappointment with the way the offense is coming around, even though the pitching staff has a ways to go. May 15 can't come fast enough.

Other thoughts:

  • Here's the answer to Wednesday's trivia question: It's Horacio Ramirez. I mean, seriously, the only reason Ramirez hasn't been a consistent target of our scorn for the past month is because his bad start pales in comparison to Weaver's, which reached epic proportions with his sixth consecutive loss today. But now that Weaver has made it so painfully obvious he no longer can pitch in the rotation, fans are turning their ire to HoRam, especially now that the guy has allowed 7 runs in each of his past two starts -- games the Mariners should have won.

    It's not that he's just been bad; he's bad with below-average major league stuff. Straight high-80s fastball, mediocre curve and changeup ... how in the world did Atlanta unload this guy? Oh, wait ... never mind.

    The problem is this: You can't take both Ramirez and Weaver out of the rotation, because there are simply no other viable alternatives. Felix's return will take care of one of them, but there's no one at AAA who's likely to be appreciably better than either of them thanks to the fact that the Mariners have utterly failed to develop a quality starting arm in the last 10 years other than the King. Brandon Morrow might have been an option had he started the year in AAA and had been stretched out as a starter, but that's just not going to happen now.

    So, the Mariners are stuck trotting them out there and hoping and praying that one of them figures it out, because Bill Bavasi has hitched his wagon to these two. Otherwise, we're stuck chalking up an automatic loss every fifth day and probably watching ourselves fall out of contention in the West.

  • Disturbing stat of the day: Jeff Weaver's ERA actually DROPPED ONE FULL RUN today, even after giving up 6 runs in 5 innings (15.35 to 14.32).

  • I loved Cha Seung Baek's gritty performance Wednesday. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: The guy will make a fine No. 5 starter on this team. He's not going to do what he did Wednesday ever again, and it would be wrong of fans to expect him to. But what he will do is give you 5 or 6 innings ever fifth day and a shot to win -- the team is 4-0 in games he's started this year. Let me say that again: The team has won every game the guy that took Felix Hernandez's spot in the rotation has started. That's infinitely more than Weaver or Ramirez is giving the team right now.

  • Has anyone else noticed Jose Guillen is literally starting to hit the snot out of the ball? (Ha ha! Just checking to see if you're paying attention!) Seriously, though, his average is now .278 after a 3-for-4 performance Thursday, his OBP is now up to .340 and he's slugging .464 -- really solid numbers. If Hargrove wanted to do something really revolutionary, he'd divorce himself from his silly left-right-left-right fascination and move Guillen to the No. 3 hole, dropping Ibanez down to Guillen's No. 5 spot. (For the record, Ibanez is slugging .358, which I'm pretty sure has to now be worst among No. 3 hitters in the AL, supplanting ... Jose Vidro!)

  • Ichiro still isn't stealing any bases. Doesn't he know he has limited value on my fantasy team if he's not stealing bases? Sheesh.

Question: What's Darrell Jackson been up to in San Francisco?

Answer: Pretty much the same thing he was always up to in Seattle.

"San Francisco 49ers acquired veteran receiver Darrell Jackson (82) WATCHES PRACTICE with tight end Bryan Gilmore (84) during minicamp at 49ers training facility in Santa Clara, Calif., Friday, May 4, 2007."
Although, I guess it's a little different, since he's actually at a minicamp for the Niners.

But that's just splitting hairs.

Rest of NFC West catching up with 'Hawks? Duh!

ESPN.com's ubiquitous NFL reporter John Clayton weighs in this morning on whether the Seahawks' run as the class of the NFC West might indeed be coming to an end.

In Seattle, Mike Holmgren is enjoying a three-year run atop the NFC West that included one trip to the Super Bowl. But there is no doubt the Seahawks can hear footsteps as big and as loud as a Sasquatch's. ...

Clearly, their run at the top may be coming to an end. Age is creeping into their offense. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, fullback Mack Strong, left tackle Walter Jones, right guard Chris Gray and tight end Marcus Pollard all are in their thirties. Halfback Shaun Alexander turns 30 this fall, a nasty little number for a running back.
He details the strides the other teams have made to close the gap, which included coaching hires and savvy personnel moves. And while I don't disagree that the rest of the division isn't as bad as it has been, I certainly don't think it's time for Seahawks fans to worry too much about the upcoming season.

Is the rest of the division catching up? Of course they are -- it's the natural cycle of events in the NFL. No team stays great forever (see Rams, St. Louis, Greatest Show On Turf), and downtrodden teams are bound to make strides. It's the beauty of the league.
"They needed to," Alexander told reporters earlier this week when asked about the great offseasons of the Cardinals and 49ers. "When you win the division three years in a row, it says enough. I think it's going to be a challenge this year, but challenges are good. We've never been a team that wants to hope that someone else plays bad. We don't care what everybody is doing. We want to go out and just do what we do best, and that takes care of itself."
The reality is that neither the 49ers, Cardinals or Rams are ready to supplant the Seahawks just yet. I still believe the offense is the best in the division -- although Arizona with its playmakers could catch up if Matt Leinart continues to develop -- and the defense has been fortified with veterans who will complement the Seahawks' still-young core. And never underestimate the moxie of a team that just knows how to win, despite the myriad injuries last year that can't possibly be duplicated.

This smells more like a journalist trying to create smoke where there's no fire, to me.