Is it time to panic yet?
Apparently the Mariners think so. But let me back up a little.
We’re about a third of the way through the season. As usual, there have been a few surprises. Of course there have. Who would want to watch if everything could be predicted before the season started.
Among the surprises:
- Houston, widely expected to underwhelm their remaining fans again, is 34-20–the second-best record in baseball.
- Alex Rodriguez [spit], widely expected to literally fall apart, shedding bits of anatomy every time he swung the bat, has eleven home runs in 178 at-bats*.
- Seattle, widely expected to do more or less what Houston has been doing, hasn’t been over .500 since the third day of the season, and is currently at 24-29–the eighth-worst record in baseball.
* That gives him 665 home runs for his career. If there’s any justice in the way the universe works, the next time he hits one over the fence, a bottomless pit will open under his feet as he rounds third. Not only will his resulting eternal plummet prevent him from touching home, thereby resulting in his being called out, but the unfillable pit will force the Yankees to play the remainder of their games on the road.
Kudos to the Astros–and I think I’ve made my feelings about A-Rod [spit] clear–but as you might have guessed, I’m here to talk about the Mariners.
It’s around this time of the year that teams start deciding whether they have a legitimate shot at the playoffs. That’s a decision that will determine what they do as the Non-Waiver Trading Deadline approaches–will they be trading away prospects to fill a few gaps in the roster, or trading away current players to improve their position in the future.
What are the Mariners thinking about their chances? I don’t have a clue, and quite honestly, I don’t think they do either.
A couple of paragraphs back, I mentioned they haven’t been above .500 since their record fell to 1-2. They have gotten to .500, most recently last week at 24-24, but they’ve followed each approach to respectability with a losing streak.
Apparently the latest losing streak (five games and counting) convinced them it was time to make a change. Shortly after they were swept by the Yankees (now four games over .500 thanks largely to those three wins), they traded their backup catcher*, a relief pitcher who’s had rough outings lately, and two prospects for
a bag of magic beansMark “Big Trombone” Trumbo and a competent pitcher few people outside of Arizona have heard of.
* Poor Welington Castillo. The Mariners just picked him up in a trade a couple of weeks ago. All he wants to do is play baseball, and here he is spending more time packing and unpacking his suitcase than he is in games.
It’s a perplexing deal–and believe me, the professional commentators are just as perplexed as the fans. The Mariners’ biggest problems recently have been in getting runners on base* and holding leads when they manage to get them.
* You can only do so much with solo home runs. Generally speaking, you need to string a few hits and walks together, get men on base, and then either bring them in one at a time with a few more hits and walks or all at once with a home run. The Mariners have been trying–unsuccessfully–to disprove the general rule. They’ve hit 62 home runs, fifth best in baseball, and have scored 192 runs, third worst in baseball.
What do their new acquisitions bring? Well, the pitcher, Nuno, might help them hold leads. By all accounts, he’s been reasonably effective in limited action. Even average would be an upgrade over the recent performance of the man he’s replacing, so there’s that. But Trumbo’s only baseball skills seem to be hitting home runs and striking out*. Add his nine HRs so far this year to the Mariners’ total, and they’d move up to number three on the list instead of number five, but those nine additional runs–because, the way the Ms haven’t been getting men on base would mean they would likely have all been solo shots–would only move them up from twenty-eighth to twenty-sixth in runs scored. That’s a negligible difference.
* It’s not true that he got his nickname because he fields the ball as though he was using a trombone instead of a glove, but it’s an almost-plausible bit of folk etymology.
So, getting back to my original question, is it time to panic? Honestly, I don’t think so. There are still more than enough games left for the Ms to turn it around and squeak into the playoffs. But I’m not sure their management agrees. To me, the Trumbo deal smells like a “doing anything is better than nothing” move. It may not be rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, but it’s at least on par with repainting the Bay Bridge.