6.17.2007

Disastrous weekend leaves M's searching for answers

After a start to the road trip that could not have been better, the M's finished up in the worst possible way by dropping five straight and leaving themselves in third place and 7 games behind the Angels, if they finish off the Dodgers, whom they lead 8-3 right now.

Some players have speculated that the team is tired after a daunting stretch of 33 games in 34 days, thanks to rainout makeups from early in the season. But that's not their biggest problem.

When the team got hot over the past few weeks, we knew two things for certain: 1) This team would not keep scoring 8-10 runs a game; 2) If the pitching staff kept pitching the way it was during the team's hot streak, that hot streak was going to end in hurry.

You see, the biggest issue in this losing streak wasn't the offense. Yes, the team only scored 14 runs over those five games. But in the last two, the team never had a chance thanks to the pitching staff, and the M's also watched as Brandon Morrow coughed up the team's first loss after leading after 8 innings. Combine that with a pair of very poor offensive performances, and you've got the makings of a losing streak.

Even great offensive teams go through stretches where they just don't score a ton of runs. If they are to be successful teams that win consistently, they need their pitching staffs to pick them up occasionally with a 1 or 2-run start. That hasn't happened for the Mariners, whose pitching staff hasn't given up less than three runs in a game since holding the Royals to one run all the way back on May 26.

That is not the recipe for consistent winning baseball.

We've been saying it for some time, but the cries became muted as the offense overcame its deficiencies: The starters have to do more. A lot more.

Felix has to figure out a way to go 7-plus innings on a semi-consistent basis. Jarrod Washburn has to pitch like he did earlier this year, although our worst fear -- that we were playing with house money when it came to 2.50 ERA Washburn -- might just be coming true. Miguel Batista has to not suck (for the love of God, don't be fooled by those people who point to his 7 wins and say that he's a guy who just figures out how to win) and Jeff Weaver needs to be out of the rotation. Cha Seung Baek was terrible yesterday, but c'mon -- you're going to get that every once in a while from a guy like him.

I'm optimistic about Felix, but not so much about Washburn, Batista and Weaver. And that's going to make for some roller coaster nights from here on out, and probably some roller coaster trips like the ones the M's just finished.

The good news is that after a day off tomorrow, the M's begin a 12-game homestand starting with six against the Pirates and Reds. I think some of the Mariners' recent offensive issues will work themselves out. The day of rest won't hurt, and Adrian Beltre should be returning to the lineup in a couple of days.

I think it's also going to benefit the team tremendously to return to American League rules. Much of this team's offensive effectiveness comes from having offensive threats up and down the lineup. But in an NL park with Beltre out, the Willie Bloomquist/pitcher black hole at the bottom of the order really presented some issues.

It's also time for the team to stop taking a very long, hard look at calling up Adam Jones from Tacoma and just do it.

There's no doubt he's ready offensively -- you can read about that here and here and here -- but I think the bigger benefit will be with Jones roaming left field. It's become pretty painful to watch Raul Ibanez play out there, and that was never more evident than Friday night when a pair of doubles eluded his reach -- two doubles that, if caught, would have ended innings and saved three runs from Felix's line.

Jones would have caught them both fairly easily.

It's time for Ibanez -- who still has value as a hitter (.295/.357/.455 in May and June) -- to move to the DH role. Obviously, Jose Vidro was not brought here and given an extension at the unconscionable amount of $7.5 million per year to sit on the bench and become a pinch hitter. But to keep a guy in the lineup just because you made a questionable move to bring him here in the first place when Jones represents such a clear upgrade is sheer stupidity.

Bring on the Pirates. We need them after that debacle.

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