2008 Finally Over for M's

Yuniesky BetancourtFinally, the season is over for the Mariners. Ironically, it ended with a sweep of the Oakland A's. It ended with J.J. Putz striking out the side with 98 mile-an-hour heat. In short, if you had missed the first 158 games of the year, you might have thought this team was right where it was expected to be. On the other hand, if you did catch glimpses of the previous 158, this final series was a little frustrating. The Mariners "blew" their chance to get the top pick in the draft. It is as if they cannot even win at losing. I will choose to be happy that the season ended with three wins in a row, and leave it at that.

Still, above all, I am happy that the worst season in Mariners history is officially over. Sure, they have had a few years with marginally worse records, but nobody can argue that any other season has been worse. I do not even know where to start. So many posts could be dedicated to so many issues with the season, the team, and the direction of the organization. Really, this post is all about saying hooray, this miserable season no longer drones on. Here are a few fun facts to think about as the M's offseason officially kicks off. I'll call them the good, the bad, and the ugly:

THE GOOD
  • Ryan Rowland-Smith as a starter: 12 starts, 72 IP, 73 H, 20 BB, 38 K, 10 HR, 3.50 ERA
  • Jose Lopez after the All-Star Break: .291 AVG, .323 OBP, .465 SLG, 10 HR
  • Ichiro still batted .300, got 200 hits, and 100 runs
THE BAD
  • Erik Bedard: Effective when pitching, but lambasted for not pitching through an injury that turned out to be very serious.
  • Yuniesky Betancourt: .277 AVG, .292 OBP, .387 SLG, .689 OPS - all lower than 2006 or 2007
  • Wladimir Balentien: .201 AVG, .250 OBP, .339 SLG, 78 strikeouts in 239 at-bats
THE UGLY
  • Miguel Batista: 6.26 ERA, 115 IP, 135 H, 79 BB, 73 K, 19 HR
  • Carlos Silva: 6.46 ERA, 153.1 IP, 213 H, 32 BB, 69 K, 20 HR
  • Kenji Johjima: .223 AVG, .272 OBP, .330 SLG in 376 at-bats, with a 3-year, $24 million contract extension kicking in next year
OTHER FUN FACTS
  • Record under John McLaren: 25-47 (.347 winning percentage)
  • Record under Jim Riggleman: 36-54 (.400 winning percentage)
  • Team batting before the All-Star Break: .254 AVG, .312 OBP, .371 SLG
  • Team batting after the All-Star Break: .281 AVG, .326 OBP, .414 SLG
  • Team pitching before the All-Star Break: 4.28 ERA, .265 BAA, .744 OPS allowed
  • Team pitching after the All-Star Break: 5.40 ERA, .292 BAA, .842 OPS allowed
  • Richie Sexson had a higher OPS than Bryan LaHair
  • Richie Sexson finished with the fourth-most walks on the team, despite appearing in only 74 games. He finished with the fourth-most strikeouts as well.
  • Felix Hernandez led the team in ERA by default. He was the only Mariners pitcher who logged enough innings to qualify for the league ERA title.
No doubt, it was a long, weird, painful season. There is plenty to think about, both positive and negative. It is going to be a big offseason, even if the team makes minimal moves on the free agent market, or through trades. Above all, the 2008 season has finally, mercifully come to an end, and it even ended on a surprisingly bright note.

Truly, The End of An Era

Yankee StadiumEvery passionate baseball fan either loves the Yankees or hates the Yankees. There is no middle ground. I hate them. But, like most passionate baseball fans that hate the Yankees, I love hating them. I do not wish ill will (at least away from the game) on Derek Jeter, the Steinbrenners, anyone, or anything else that makes the Yankees the Yankees. It would not make sense for me to. I love hating them too much to want any of it to go away, or change in any way.

That is why Yankee lovers and haters alike have to be sad to see Yankee stadium go. It will always be part of what made the Yankees the Yankees. It was the home to so many legendary moments, teams, and players. When I think of the place, I see Josh Hamilton's home run derby barrage and Curt Schilling's bloody sock. I remember how my heart raged when Aaron Boone sent a Tim Wakefield knuckleball into the standing, sending the Yankees to yet another World Series. I also remember how my heart sunk when Jim Leyritz pushed the '95 M's to the brink of elimination in a gut-wrenching 15-inning marathon. These are the Yankee Stadium moments I vividly remember, and they almost get lost in the crowd of Yankee Stadium memories. More than anything else, that speaks to the overwhelming nature of Yankee Stadium, the very ovewhelming nature that is the source of Yankee Stadium's mystique.

I hated Yankee Stadium. I hated the mystique, especially in the playoffs. Maybe I was jealous, maybe I found it unfair. I have never stopped to think why I hated the mystique so much. What matters is that I hated it, and I loved hating it. Hating the mystique made every Yankee Stadium game so much more interesting and memorable.

I had to watch the last game in Yankee Stadium. Since I hate the Yankees, I hoped that they would lose. Yankee Stadium is defined so much by all the great Yankee triumphs, so it would have been so precious for its last memory to be of failure. Plus, a loss would have mathematically eliminated the Yankees from playoff contention, making a loss even sweeter. How ironic would it have been if the Yankees had been knocked out of playoff contention in their final game at Yankee Stadium? As a Yankee hater, I could not think of a better ending.

The game started well enough, and my excitement grew. Then, the Yankees came back with a homer from Johnny Damon that just cleared the short right field porch. Even though Johnny is on my fantasy team, I was mad. It was a cheap home run, the kind of fly ball that would have been an out in every other stadium. Once again, the Yankees were taking control of a game thanks to the stupid layout of Yankee Stadium. I was mad and frustrated. Making matters worse, Andy Pettitte settled down and Jose Molina hit a homer to extend the lead. What business did Jose Molina have hitting a big home run? It is just like the Yankees in Yankee Stadium to get unlikely contributions at crucial times. It is not fair at all. Finally, Mariano Rivera came out in the ninth and sucked the final remaining life out of the Orioles, ending their misery and mine.

Tonight felt like such a typical Yankees game. I wanted them to lose, got my hopes up, and then players stepped up and did unlikely things to give New York the lead. My smiling lips quickly gave way to furrowed brows, and inevitable disappointment set in as Rivera made his final trek to the hallowed Yankee Stadium mound. I could not help but think of all the times over the years that I was convinced Rivera was due to fail as he took that mound, and how every time he let me down by not letting down the Yankees.

Everything about Yankee Stadium's last game, from the ceremonies to the game itself, reminded me why I hate the Yankees so much. The history, the tradition, the narcissism, the entitlement, the winning - it was all there. My heart sank as Rivera buzzed through the Orioles with his cutter, and I glared as Jeter gushed about how great Yankee fans are.

At the risk of sounding like a masochist, I would not have wanted it any other way either. It would not have felt quite right if I had not been frustrated, disappointed, or perturbed at any point of Yankee Stadium's final game. I love hating the Yankees, and it was nice that everything felt like business as usual in Yankee Stadium's final game.

Yankee Stadium needed to be replaced. It was out of date. The new Yankee Stadium will be nicer in almost every way imaginable, from fan amenities to architectural detail. It looks like an ideal blend between the past and present (though at an exorbitant price, if you agree with Dennis Kucinich). Still, change means that things will be different. For the sake of Yankee haters and lovers alike, I hope things do not change that much.

Curious Firing

It was obvious that the Brewers were going all in with this year's team when they traded for CC Sabathia. Considering how well CC has done (and the standings), it also seems that the move is working out. All those good feelings disappeared Monday though. After being swept by the Phillies, Brewers GM Doug Melvin decided it was time to fire manager Ned Yost. Taking his place on an interim basis will be Dale Sveum, who had been the team's third base coach.

Playoff contenders have fired managers mid-season before. It is not the norm, but happens frequently enough that it does not seem overly peculiar. Look at the Mets this year. As horribly as Willie Randolph's firing was handled, they handled a mid-season firing the way a good team usually does. The general progression is:
  1. Team has high expectations, and manager is possibly already in a little hot water
  2. Team gets off to bad start.
  3. Manager fired as a result of bad start.
  4. Interim manager takes over and team miraculously gets better, usually in part because they were bound to improve anyway.
How does the Brewers' progression look? Something like this:
  1. Team has promising expectations
  2. Team gets off to solid start
  3. Team makes huge trade to hopefully catapult them to the next level
  4. Team subsequently goes from solid to good
  5. Team stumbles a little late in the season, but is still tied for the wild card lead
  6. Manager fired as a result of one bad series at an inopportune time
  7. Interim manager takes over and...?
This is an unfair firing if there ever was one. Ned Yost, as he was suddenly kicked out, was criticized by GM Doug Melvin for not being able to take the team to the next level. Excuse me, Doug? Before Yost was hired, the Brewers were annually losing 90-95 games. Under Yost, the team usually hovered around .500. That is a significant improvement. Moreover, the Brewers began a major youth movement under Yost, and the team has only begun to come of age the last couple seasons. Ned Yost never had the opportunity to take the team to the next level until the CC trade, and what do you know...the team did take a step forward. They are still in the thick of the playoff hunt. Yes, they did not look good in Philadelphia, but they are still tied for the Wild Card lead with last year's NL East champions!

There is no debating that the Brewers did not look good in their most recent series. But, the franchise has been climbing fairly steadily the past six years. Four days of evidence versus six years; you be the judge. Doug Melvin sided with the four days, and he may pay a heavy price. Thanks to the wild card tie with only 12 games to go, the team was already in a high-pressure situation. Now, on top of dealing with that, the players must also cope with the firing and get comfortable with Sveum's style, and the changes he promises to make. Does that sound like a recipe for success? It does not to me.

Luck plays a surprisingly large role in a stretch of just 12 games, and making the playoffs would bury a bunch of the unease and distress in the organization right now. With that in mind, the change could "work." I have never seen a team so bent on making the playoffs, or at least one person (Doug Melvin). If the Brewers do not make it, he should be fired. Maybe he should be fired even if they do. The CC trade was risky, but the Yost firing is ludicrous.

Morrow Delivers

Brandon MorrowInternally, the Mariners debated for the better part of two months whether to transition Brandon Morrow into a starter or not. The argument was simple: he is an awesome reliever, and there was no guarantee he would be even an effective starter. The argument seemed valid enough...until looking at where the M's are in the standings, and at Morrow's starting experience before reaching the big leagues. I have been a proponent of moving Morrow to the rotation since the end of last season, and I especially wanted to see it happen once the Mariners gave up on this season. There was absolutely NO reason to keep from finding out what he could do as a starter.

Even as a die-hard proponent of stretching Morrow out, I thought it would take at least three or four starts for him to show what I thought he was capable of. I was wrong. There is no doubt now. After just one start, Brandon Morrow has proven to everyone that he can start, and that he will be a member of the M's 2009 starting rotation. He is not going to go out and take no-hitters into the eighth inning every night, but the fact that he can says enough. Could a pitcher incapable of starting beat the odds and throw 106 masterful pitches like Morrow did last night? Could a pitcher incapable of starting maintain their stamina like that when they had not thrown more than 85 pitches or so in any game (majors or minors) this season?

I continue to put higher and higher expectations on Morrow, and he continues to blow me away. He looked at home as a starter. He had command, poise, control, and stamina. Going to a full windup did not bother him at all. If anything, Morrow looked more comfortable in a full windup. Though King Felix is still the unquestioned leader of the staff, I would argue that Morrow's start last night was the most significant one of the year for the M's. The starting rotation has holes, and it sure feels like one of them may have been plugged up for the next decade last night.

The Yankees are not quite what they used to be, but they still have one of the best lineups in baseball. Maybe Morrow got a little beginner's luck, but once again, the question is whether Morrow is a capable starter or not. I am a fan of taking some time to evaluate players (yet another reason I wanted the M's to transition Morrow much earlier), but the case is closed for me after last night. Brandon Morrow is a starter, and he is staying in the rotation for good. He has the potential to form a deadly 1-2 punch with Felix, and Ryan Rowland-Smith and Ryan Feierabend look like solid options behind them. This is why I was always a proponent of giving these young guys chances. Bill Bavasi never believed in his own talent, and that still boggles my mind. At least the Mariners are giving them chances now, and 2009 continues to look better and better because of it.