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.

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