It was really painful watching the Mariners get swept by the Twins over the weekend thanks to countless bad plays and bad decisions. The lowlight of the weekend had to be the triple play, but Sunday's game featured some bad managing decisions from Mike Hargrove.
Seattle actually did a very nice job against Johan Santana, but Hargrove did his best to prevent the Mariners from scoring. In the fifth inning with the score tied, Seattle had runners at first and second with no outs for their leading home run and RBI guy, the surprising Jose Lopez. Instead of letting Lopez swing and taking the chance of having a huge inning, Hargrove had Lopez sacrifice the runners along. Jose did that and Raul Ibanez followed with a sacrifice fly. The strategy worked, but I do not agree with it. The fifth inning is way too early to play for only one run, especially when the team's leading home run and RBI producer is at the plate and the heart of the order is following him with no outs. The inning had the potential to be a huge knock-out blow, but Hargrove made sure it was not.
After a groundout by Yuniesky Betancourt to start the seventh, Ichiro hit a stand-up triple, bringing Jose Lopez to the plate. Once again, this is the Mariners' leader in home runs and RBIs, and he is also among the league leaders in sacrifice flies. Unbelievably, Hargrove puts on the squeeze play and it backfires miserably, as Lopez popped it up and Ichiro was hung out to dry. What was a tailor-made RBI opportunity for the club's leading RBI man turned into an inning-ending double play thanks to Mike Hargrove.
In the tenth inning the Twins brought in Joe Nathan, and Ichiro promptly got an infield single. Up next was Jose Lopez and he was asked to bunt AGAIN, though to be fair to Hargrove, it certainly made sense in this situation. Still, thanks to Mike Hargrove, Seattle's leading RBI guy was asked to bunt in his last three plate appearances with a total of four men on base, two of them in scoring position! Does that sound like a winning strategy? As it turns out, Lopez could not get the bunt down, so he had to swing away and he ended up with a single. Now there are two runners on with no outs for Raul Ibanez. The bunt would make sense here, except Raul only has two succesful sacrifice bunts in his career, and the last one was in 2003. Hargrove asked Raul to sacrifice anyway, and he was not successful (did NOT see that one coming). At this point, I am wondering if Hargrove is trying to lose the game. Ibanez ends up hitting a frozen rope to right field that Michael Cuddyer made a great catch on. Seattle ended up not scoring and the first man up for the Twins in their half of the tenth, Lew Ford, hit a walk-off home run to end the game.
The Mariners offense certainly is not that good and as a result Mike Hargrove feels that the team must manufacture runs. However, he is taking the approach way too far and is actually hurting the offense. There is absolutely no excuse for having Jose Lopez bunt three times in one game, twice with runners already in scoring position. All Lopez is doing is setting up an RBI opportunity for someone who is not as good at driving in runs as Lopez. Hargrove needs to start treating Jose like the offensive threat that he is. Also, why doesn't Mike start Roberto Petagine a few times at first base? Richie Sexson is really struggling and it is time to try some new things instead of continuing to run the same guys out there and expecting a difference. At the very least Petagine would get some desperately needed at-bats and as a result would be more effective when asked to pinch hit. Actually, while I'm at it, let me throw out the line-up I would like to see the Mariners use:
Jeremy Reed/Willie Bloomquist
Whenever Kenji needs a day off, Betancourt can me moved to up to second, Reed/Bloomquist and Beltre can move up one spot in the batting order, and Rene Rivera can bat ninth. I think this is the best lineup for the Mariners for multiple reasons. First, of the Mariners on pace to qualify for the batting title, Ichiro and Johjima are first and third on the team in on-base percentage, respectively (number two is Carl Everett, just .005 ahead of Johjima). So, though neither is a prototypical top-of-the-order hitter, they are the best tandem the Mariners have. Next, the third through sixth hitters in my Mariners lineup are the Mariners top four home run hitters and four of their top five RBI men (Johjima is fourth on the team in RBIs). Finally, Betancourt gets to move up in the lineup because he deserves to (a team with this bad of an offense should not have a guy batting .280 in the ninth spot), Jeremy Reed/Willie Bloomquist continue to platoon in the eighth spot, and I have come to grips with the reality that Adrian Beltre is nothing short of horrible right now. Look it up, he is easily Seattle's worst hitter so he should therefore bat ninth. In addition, I would play Petagine much more by having him start at first base and maybe even at designated hitter every now and then if Carl Everett needs a rest. My goal would be to have Petagine start atleast twice a week and get in a minimum of 10 plate appearances a week (Roberto has a grand total of 22 plate appearances so far this season). Considering Beltre's struggles, I would not hesitate to play Mike Morse more, and even experiment with Willie Bloomquist at third base. Bloomquist's complete lack of power prevents him from being a good option at the top of the lineup but his good batting average, on-base percentage, and speed could fit nicely at the bottom of the order. I am tired of watching Mike Hargrove and his futile efforts to "improve" the offense. I would love to see what my suggested lineup could do. Change is needed.