Not On Our Side

Not exactly the way the Mariners wanted to come out of the All-Star Break. Two and one against the White Sox, owners of the third-worst record in baseball. Splitting a two-game series with the Giants, who are struggling to stay at .500. Losing two of three to the Angels, the fourth place team in the Mariners’ own division.

Still, it’s better than the eight games going into the Break, when they went two and six.

And there are signs of hope. The seven run first inning against the Angels Sunday. Last night’s low-scoring, but ultimately victorious match with the Astros. For that matter, the Astros’ four straight losses going into that game and the Athletics’ dropping three in a row to the Rockies didn’t exactly hurt the Ms.

Going five and four and winding up two games closer to the division lead is unusual, but who–outside of Houston and Oakland–is complaining?

The Orioles, by the way, have gone four and five with one rainout over the same stretch. That’s also not exactly world-beating, and they’re still five and half behind those pesky White Sox, but they’re riding a three-game win streak coming into their series with the Yankees. Go Birds!

But I digress.

The Mariners have made a few moves ahead of the Trade Deadline–which we all know is more of a Trade Mild Headache Line. Like their recent record, there’s nothing spectacular there, but nothing horrifying either. Bolstering the bullpen is a reasonable move. A (usually) safe move.

But as I’ve said before, defense doesn’t win ballgames. It can keep you from losing games, but winning requires offense. Just ask Felix. Or, better yet, ask Harvey Haddix, who pitched a perfect game for twelve innings back in 1959 and wound up losing the game 1-0.

Maybe the Ms will do something to bolster the offense today. A trade. A promotion from the minors. A new locker-room ritual. Something.

But this is the Mariners. The gang that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2001. Loyal fans have come to expect something to go wrong. Or, more likely, a whole mess of things to go wrong.

Come on guys, make a break with history. Let’s get it right this year.

Late Midway

Here we are at the middle of the season.

Yeah, yeah, I know. Most teams are past the ninety-five game mark and several are at ninety-eight–60% of the season. But the All-Star Break is still the traditional mid-point, even though–thanks to this year’s schedule changes–it’s never been later.

And we all know how important tradition is to baseball. (One assumes that Tevye and the rest of the gang fleeing Anatevka became rabid fans when they reached the U.S. Though they probably would have rooted for the Trolley Dodgers, so there’s that. But I digress.)

Jackie’s Orioles, while not exactly covering themselves with glory, at least made it to the break on a two-game winning streak, giving them 28 victories on the season and putting them percentage points ahead of the Royals in the race to avoid the “Worst Team in Baseball Dunce Cap” (not a real award).

The Giants (hi, John!), despite dropping their last two games to the Athletics, are still two games over .500 and have a legitimate chance to challenge for the NL West crown and a playoff spot.

And, of course, the Mariners, flying high as recently as two weeks ago, have lately put on a performance that makes the Orioles look stellar. They’ve lost four straight and seven of the last ten. That they’re still sitting in the second Wild Card slot says a lot more about the way the rest of the American League started the season than it does about the Ms themselves.

Vexingly, they’re not in the Machado sweepstakes. They’ve got a pretty darn good shortstop already, and their third baseman isn’t exactly shabby either. So, while Manny’s bat might be just what they need to kickstart the offense again, they don’t have anywhere to put him. (As I write this, it appears he’ll be going to the aforementioned Trolley Dodgers. Feh!)

Anyway, the All-Star Break means the Home Run Derby. You know I love me some Derby, even though it’s not really baseball. (If preseason baseball is methadone, what does that make the All-Star Game and the Home Run Derby? Nicotine gum, maybe?)

This year’s HRD may have been the best I’ve seen. Certainly the best since I started blogging. No gross mismatches, a couple of dramatic comebacks, an exciting final round, and a complete lack of distracting charity gimmicks. (The key word there is “distracting”. T-Mobile is donating money to Team Rubicon based partly on the number of home runs hit during the Derby. Good for them. And doubly so for not hitting viewers over the head with their message as has been the case with previous charitable donation promotions.)

I could have done with a bit less Bryce Harper adulation during the event. Yes, I know: local player, heavily favored, plays well to the camera. But the frequent cuts to his latest mugging felt contrived. But it’s a minor complaint, all things considered.

The youthful ball-shaggers were good. I saw a couple of nice catches and only one incident that put me in fear for a kid’s health. And it was great to see them get some on-screen recognition as Pitch, Hit & Run winners. Nobody robbed a competitor of a home run as famously happened to Ryne Sandberg in 1985, but I did see a clean snag just short of the wall.

More nicotine gum tonight with the All-Star Game, then two days of withdrawal before real games resume. (Yeah, okay, there’s a Cardinals/Cubs game on Thursday to help tide us over to Friday, but outside of St. Louis, it’s not a big deal. Certainly unlikely to have significant playoff repercussions.)

Back to the Basics

First, a belated apology to Jackie on behalf of the Mariners, who swept her beloved Orioles in a four game series at the end of June. I know she was disappointed, but in the Ms’ defense, they needed the victories a lot more than the Os did.

Which isn’t much of an apology, I realize. But it’s sure in line with baseball tradition, where the “apology” for nailing a batter in the ribs with a fastball is often, “He deserved it.”

But I digress slightly. Despite a recent absence of hitting–especially with runners in scoring position–the Mariners are still 23 games over .500, only three games out of first in their division, and holding a solid (if hardly impregnable) six game lead over Oakland in the Wild Card race. They’re on pace to win 101 games, which is pretty good for a team few expected to win 90.

So, sorry Jackie–but would you please ask your guys to beat the Yankees a few more times this year? Thanks, much obliged.

Moving on.

We went to our annual minor league game last week. The last couple of years we went to Sacramento for a AAA game, but this year the schedule worked out better to go back to our previous stomping grounds, San Jose.

The San Jose Giants are a Class A Advanced league team. The quality of play is not, to put it politely, at anything close to a major league level. The odds say that the majority of the players we saw will never get more than a cup of coffee, if that much.

But.

We had good seats–not that any of the seats in a 4,000 seat facility are bad.
10-1

And when you sit that close to the action, you really get a sense of how good that so-called bad play is in reality. When someone hits that proverbial screaming line drive, you can hear it scream. And when it knocks the third baseman on his ass, you understand why he didn’t catch it in a very visceral way. One you’ll never get watching, say Nolan Arenado, from the third deck of a 50,000 seat park.

Which is not to say you forgive that third baseman, of course.

Still, A-class baseball is an entertaining way to spend an afternoon or evening, and it’s a damn sight cheaper than the majors.

But be aware that Municipal Stadium does have its quirks. Many parks are afflicted with seagulls that descend on the field after the game, sometimes not waiting for the final out before they come shrieking in, chasing errant french fries. Municipal Stadium has a similar problem.
10-2

It’s a self-inflicted problem, of course. What you’re seeing there is the clean-up after a regular promotion. During the game, fans can buy a bag of numbered tennis balls, which they get to throw at targets set up on the field. Get a ball into a bucket or plastic ring and win a prize: leftover bobbleheads from earlier promotions, for example. Though, to be fair, the day we were there, three people won tickets to a San Francisco Giants game. That attempt at balance isn’t quite fair, though: big winners aren’t all that common, and three winners at one game was an all-time record.

We had a good time–and that’s without figuring in the post-game fireworks show. It was short and didn’t have many large, spectacular blooms, but the launch point in center field, less than 100 yards away, and the heavy emphasis on rapid-fire curtains and streams of sparks more than made up for the limitations.

Moving on.

If we believe the commissioner, the biggest problem facing professional baseball right now is pace of play. Based on the game in San Jose, I think he’s got the wrong end of the rope. It’s not really about speeding up the game. That’s just one approach to the real problem: keeping fans actively involved and interested.

Maybe we don’t really need pitch clocks or electronic umpires*. Maybe what we need is something a bit different.

* We don’t. Nobody who’s seen the home crowd react to their cleanup hitter strike out looking at a pitch three feet outside would ever say getting balls and strikes right is the best way to keep fans involved in the game.

Hey, Commissioner Manfred, how about reintroducing the beer batter at the major league level?

For the uninitiated, one player on the visiting team is designated the “beer batter”. If he strikes out, beer is half-priced for a period of time, typically fifteen minutes or for the next half-inning. And, boy howdy, do the spectators cheer when the beer batter swings and misses.

Sure, there are issue to be worked out. Nobody’s going to want to sell those $12 craft beers for $6. But the mass-market beers shouldn’t be a problem, especially if you limit sales to a subset of the concession stands. And most, if not all, parks halt beer sales after the seventh inning, and half-priced soda isn’t going to satisfy anyone when the beer batter comes up in the eighth or ninth. Maybe a deal on beer-battered corn dogs?

But the beer batter is only an example. Give the fans a specific thing to root for that has a direct payout to them, and they’ll engage. Case in point: if an Oakland player hits a home run, everyone in a single section of seats gets a free pizza. But fans can’t cheer for that. Homers can happen at any time, and the section isn’t announced until after the hit. How about changing it up a bit: if the ninth batter hits a home run, everyone gets pizza?

You’ll have fans screaming for guys with a lifetime .200 average to swing for the fences, and crying in mass agony when his fly ball dies on the warning track–and if he bunts, well…!

Sure, it might be a little pricey for the Giants when MadBum is pitching, but that’s what corporate sponsors are for, right?

Call it unenlightened self-interest. It’s not as obnoxious as the increasingly ridiculous between-innings antics most parks have turned to, and it’ll work just as well to keep fans in the stadium.

And it’s certainly more true to baseball tradition than putting free runners on base in extra innings.

Divine Wrath

It’s been a rough week for Seattle baseball fans.

It started with an ordinary aggravation: a rain-out, resulting in a doubleheader. Normally you take those in stride, but it came at an awkward time in the Ms’ schedule: a lot of travel and no off days, thanks to an early-season snow-out.

Then, the day after the doubleheader, Robinson Canó was hit on the hand by an errant pitch. Broken metacarpal bone, out for an estimated 6-8 weeks. A big hit to the team’s playoff hopes and overall morale.

Naturally, then, the Universe doubled down. Before fans even heard the specialist’s appraisal of Canó’s injury and expected recovery time, they found out it was largely irrelevant. MLB determined he’d taken a banned substance and suspended him for eighty games. Not only does that push his return into August, but it means he’ll be ineligible if the Ms’ manage to squeeze into the playoffs.

It’s especially vexing for the fans because of a lack of information. Canó and MLB say he took a diuretic which is on the banned list because it can be used to flush performance-enhancing drugs out of the system. Players don’t get banned for taking that medication; instead, there’s an independent investigation to determine the likelihood that it was taken to conceal PED use.

Canó denies there was any PED use, and that the drug was to control his high blood pressure–a legitimate use. MLB says there is evidence of PED use, but, for privacy reasons, will not discuss what the evidence is or what banned substances they believe he took.

Of course, the result is a persecution complex among Mariners fans, and the rise of conspiracy theories. My favorite says MLB is unhappy at losing the Cubs’ curse as a drawing card and publicity tool. As a result, the theory states, they’re taking steps to extend Seattle’s playoff drought–already the longest in all of the four major American sports–indefinitely. This, of course, ties in nicely with reports that Portland is in the running for an expansion team: how thrilling would it be to have a playoff race between the martyred Mariners and the Portland TBAs? One team trying to break their curse, the other trying to duplicate the success of the NHL’s Vegas franchise–now that’s drama (and ticket sales).

But I digress.

Picture those poor Seattle fans, already dealing with all that.

Tuesday–the same day Canó’s suspension was announced–Nelson Cruz, another key piece of the Mariners’ playoff hopes, was hit in the foot by a pitch.

A wave of fan suicides was forestalled when the team was able to give an update before the end of the game: no bones were broken, but Cruz will be out for several days, and a stint on the Disabled List is still a possibility.

You might think that was enough. But, no. Adding insult to the injuries, most of them couldn’t even watch Wednesday afternoon’s game. Not because of their work schedules, but because it was exclusive to Facebook, one of twenty-five such this season. No local TV, no MLB.TV. Closed your Facebook account in protest of the Cambridge Analytica? Too bad. Don’t want to sit in front of your computer for three hours? Sorry. Don’t have the Facebook app on your mobile device because you don’t want to give them access to your location and contacts? We weep great crocodile tears for you.

Ahem. Sorry.

How was the experience if you were willing to deal with Facebook?

Feh.

In fairness, they did provide a way to turn off the comments window and the stupid emoji scrolling on top of the video. And having the broadcast commercial-free was nice.

Other than that, though…

Even with Facebook comments off, we still got viewer questions and comments slapped onscreen and had to listen to the announcers read them and respond.

Instead of letting fans enjoy the lack of commercials by showing pitchers warming up, attendees singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, and all the other enjoyable non-game elements of the live experience, we got historical moments only tangentially related to the current game and more inane viewer comments.

Let’s not forget the frequent use of split-screen, shrinking the actual game in favor of interviews with studio talking heads, players, and managers.

And, of course, several in-game reminders to buy MLB.TV and get access to “all out of market games”, conveniently not adding “except this one”.

Pardon me again.

So, yeah. Baseball on Facebook is better than no baseball–but that’s a given. If there were any alternative short of flying cross-country to watch the game in person, I’d recommend it.

Still, today is a new day. Mariners fans across the country are risking divine wrath by assuring each other that the worst must surely be over, and life will get better from here.

Game time is 7:10 Pacific, and it will be available through all the usual distribution channels. Surely nothing else can go wrong this week. Right?

Didja Hear the One…

Not that I want to bring you down or anything, but let’s talk about how writers get paid.

I mean, I could talk about baseball, but that would be a real bummer. Fans of the Red Sox (15-2) and Mets (13-4) might want to disagree with that assessment, but if I was going to write that piece, I’d certainly point out that nobody’s going to finish the season with 124 wins, much less 143. (Fans of the Reds, Marlins, Royals, White Sox, Rays, and Orioles may, however, take heart in my assurance that nobody’s going to finish the season with a 45-117 record either, to say nothing of 27-135.)

But anyway. Not talking baseball today.

Except…Did you hear about last night’s game between the Twins and Indians? They were playing in Puerto Rico–part of MLB’s outreach program–and the game an extra-inning thriller. Both teams’ pitchers were overwhelming, keeping the game scoreless into the fourteenth inning.

I don’t care what the commissioner thinks. A pitcher’s duel is at least as exciting as a massive slugfest. More so, in some respects. Granted, nobody came close to a no-hitter, but neither team even averaged one hit per inning. Heck, even adding in the four walks doesn’t bring us to 32. Dominant.

In any case, both teams picked up solo home runs in the fourteenth, and both failed to convert scoring opportunities in the fifteenth. The Indians threatened again in the sixteenth, but came up short, allowing the Twins to win on a bases-loaded single.

This game was the perfect argument against that stupid idea of putting free runners on base at the start of extra innings. Would have changed the whole complexion of the game, made it less exciting and almost certainly shorter. Ask those fans in Puerto Rico if they would have wanted the game to end with an exchange of “bunt plus intentional walk plus sacrifice fly” as happened in their World Baseball Classic game against the Netherlands last year?

Sorry, I digress.

Oh, by the way, if high-scoring slugfests are your thing, there was one of those yesterday as well. The As beat the White Sox 12-11 in fourteen innings. That one featured 33 hits and 18 walks. Plenty of base runners, lots of scoring, and an ending that wouldn’t have been nearly as exciting if extra innings started with runners on base. Note that the only run scored in extras was the game winner.

I still say a pitching-dominant game is more thrilling than a bat-heavy one, and the lack of notice of the Oakland/Chicago game outside of those cities supports my opinion. But even so, why would anyone want to ruin a nail-biting conclusion like that?

But, as I was saying–

You know? Maybe baseball’s not so depressing today. I’ll save the discussion of writers’ pay for another day.

Prognostication

It’s time once again for me to predict who’s going to make the playoffs and who’s going to win it all.

Yeah, usually that’s two posts, but because of the way the blog schedule aligns with MLB’s schedule this year, I decided to combine the posts.

As usual, the playoff teams will be determined based on their margin of victory in their first game*. The playoff predictions are based on run differential over the first week of the season.

* It was nice of MLB to schedule everybody to play on Opening Day. Too bad Mother Nature got involved and forced two games to be rescheduled.

So here we go.

Since an American League team won the World Series last season, we’ll force them to go first.

  • East – Regrettably, it’s clear the Yankees are going to take the AL East. It won’t even be close, given their +5 run differential.
  • Central – The White Sox are obviously the class of not just the division, not just the league, but all of MLB. Their +7 margin of victory shows the season’s going to be smooth sailing for them.
  • West – It’s going to be a close race on the Pacific coast. The Astros will take it in the end, in line with most professional prognosticators’ predictions. But a +3 isn’t much; they’re obviously going to have to work for their victory.
  • Wild Cards – Another tight race. The Rays will take the first slot, based on their two run victory in their first game. But there are three teams tied with a +1 record. The tiebreaker is total runs, which eliminates the Mariners, but Tampa Bay and Oakland both scored six. I hadn’t expected to need a second tiebreaker, so I gave Commissioner Manfred a call. “Reward whoever did the most to speed up the game,” he said. By now you all know my feelings about pace of play and those people who profess to be worried about it. Accordingly, the second Wild Card goes to the Athletics, on the grounds that their game was sixty-two minutes longer–an extra innings thriller.

Matters are slightly simpler over in the National League.

  • East – To the surprise of nearly everyone, the Mets are going to take the NL East on the strength of their +5 run differential.
  • Central – It’s obviously Chicago’s year. The Cubs pulled out a +4 margin of victory to make it a Central division sweep for the Windy City.
  • West – The team that can’t be beat in the NL is Arizona. The Diamondbacks‘ +6 falls a little short of the White Sox’ number, but it’s certainly nothing to sneeze at.
  • Wild Card – The Braves and Pirates both put up +3 records. Since nobody else did better than a +2, we don’t need a tiebreaker to settle who goes to the playoffs, but somebody needs to host the Wild Card Game. We’ll award that to the Pirates, in recognition of their 13 runs, far better than the Braves’ 8.

So, with our teams selected, let’s move on to the results of the playoffs. To simplify matters, here are the teams with their records–the first tie-breaker–and run differentials over the first week of play:

Won/Loss

Run Differential

Yankees

4-2

35-21 (+14)
White Sox

3-2

29-31 (-02)
Astros

6-1

41-20 (+21)
Rays

1-5

15-28 (-13)
Athletics

3-4

24-29 (-04)

Won/Loss

Run Differential

Mets

4-1

22-13 (+09)
Cubs

2-3

19-19 ( 0 )
Diamondbacks

5-1

35-20 (+15)
Pirates

4-1

30-27 (+03)
Braves

4-2

48-27 (+21)

Laid out in tabular form, I think it’s obvious what the results will be. But leaving it at that would be an awfully short post, so let’s take a closer look.

In the AL, the As will knock off the Rays in the Wild Card game and then get flattened by the Astros in the Division Series. Meanwhile, the Yankees will knock off the White Sox without breaking a sweat. In the Championship Series, Houston will knock off New York.

Over in the NL, the Braves will steamroller the Pirates in the Wild Card, trample the Diamondbacks in the Division Series, and fold, spindle, and mutilate the Mets in the Championship Series.

Which brings us to the World Series, Atlanta versus Houston. The teams are evenly matched on run differential, suggesting we’ll see a high-scoring seven game series. The teams’ won/loss records to date make it clear that in the end, the Astros will win Game Seven, most likely on a home run in extra innings, to repeat as champions–the first team to repeat since the Yankees won it all three times in a row from 1998 to 2000.

Take that, pace-of-play-we-want-shorter-games advocates.

Finally!

It’s finally Opening Day. Once again we can bask in the glow of baseball games whose scores matter. For one day, we’ll ignore the controversies–pitch clocks, runners on base in extra innings, minor league pay and the possible impending demise of the independent leagues, and team-based pricing for parking.

Plenty of time for the issues later: the season is a marathon, not a sprint*. For now, it’s sufficient to pour the lemonade (or beer, if your tastes run in that direction), grab a hot dog/barbecued rib/artery-hardening ballpark food of choice, and luxuriate.

* Sorry. Had to say it.

All thirty teams were supposed to play today. That’s never happened before. The idea was dreamed up to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Fifty years ago, as a result of his assassination, all of the teams–there were twenty that season–played their first game of the year on the same day. That had never happened before, and it hadn’t happened since.

It’s not happening today either. As I write this, around 9am Pacific, two games have been postponed due to bad weather. The Pirates/Tigers game in Detroit and the Nationals/Reds game in Cincinnati will be played tomorrow, assuming the weather improves sufficiently.

Traditionally, of course, Cincinnati has always hosted the official first game of the season–a tradition that’s fallen by the wayside in recent years, what with teams playing overseas and scheduled-for-TV games the night before Opening Day–so it’s a bit ironic that the Reds’ game is one of the ones getting pushed.

But, MLK tribute or no, there’s still plenty of baseball today. I’ve got a busy schedule just with the teams I follow. I’ll skip the actual first game of the season (Cubs/Marlins at 9:40); my season will start with the Mets game at 10:10, jump between Baltimore and Tampa Bay for the Orioles (12:05) and Red Sox (1:00), swing down to LA for the Giants (4:08), and finally wrap up with the Mariners at 7:10.

Even without extra innings, that’s a good twelve hours of the One True Game. Sounds about right.

I’ll cut back to something a little more sensible tomorrow–if only because the Mariners have the day off–but I’ll wallow today.

Join me, won’t you? Ignore the parachutes, the trained eagles, and the off-key renditions of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “America the Beautiful”. Wait for those two words we’ve been waiting for since November.

“Play ball!”

Making Do

Down to what, about a week and a half until the start of the season? Sounding better all the time.

Several teams are taking today off, so there are only 12 games. That’s hardly enough to keep a real addictfan happy. So those of us on the edge of withdrawal symptoms have to turn elsewhere for a fix.

The Mariners are one of the teams not playing today. Fortunately, the team released their 2018 commercials last week. That’s recent enough that only the truly, truly obsessive have watched them over and over enough to have become sick of them. The rest of us will be fed up with them no later than early August, but for now, they’ll help to fill that “no Mariners” gap in our week.

Since the ads are eagerly awaited every year as entertainment independent of the game and the team they promote, I thought I’d give them quick reviews as entertainment.

As usual with my reviews, spoilers abound. Also, yeah, the spots do assume some knowledge of the team. I’ll try to note relevant information as we go. One thing you need to know right off: the Mariners are still using that stupid “True to the Blue” slogan. Guys, it’s not working. Ditch it. How about something that encourages the behavior we want to see? For a franchise that lives and breathes nostalgia, why don’t we get a season of “Two Outs, No Problem” or even (Baseball Deities help us) “SoDo Mojo”?

Anyway, first up is “Big Maple”.

I like this one. Nick Vincent’s deadpan delivery is perfect, conveying the impression that he’s had to explain Paxton’s nickname too damn many times. The nest is a nice little twist. And Paxton even manages to sound excited about the eggs hatching. Sadly, this may be the high point of 2018’s commercials.

Then we’ve got “Work-Related Injury”.

The balloons are a nice touch. I’ll give it that. But the commercial continues to perpetuate the “Boomstick” moniker that goes back to Cruz’ days in Texas. Can’t we come up with a nickname of our own? More importantly, though, any humor in the ad is overshadowed by the reality that Cruz is going to be turning 83 this July. Okay, 38–but that’s 83 in baseball years. How long can we realistically expect him to keep hitting those monster blasts? How painful is this commercial going to be if this is the year his homer total is lower than his uniform number (23)?

Moving on. The next offering is “Flip”.

The storyline is predictable and the punchline has no punch. Seager comes off as clueless. If they had to go with this idea, couldn’t they come up with a kicker that flips it around or at least makes Seager amusingly oblivious instead of clueless? Maybe dreamy-eyed musing about how it’s the music that makes the flip so special? “Hey, can your band do me some mood music?”

Better yet, ditch Seager altogether. Put Gamel and Motter in a “Hair Flip Derby” competition. Something like the Warner Brothers cartoon “Swooner Crooner” where Frank Sinatra’s and Bing Crosby’s singing made hens lay eggs. We could have had competive flowing hair encouraging balls to leave the park.

“Mound Visit” gets in a small jab at this season’s least-popular new rule.

But the idea is bland. Of course Cano is going to crush the poor guy’s curve. That said, this spot does have the best tagline of any of this year’s offerings. How often have you had someone say “Happy to help” after wasting your time with a meeting that accomplished less than nothing? And he delivers it with such casual flair that it comes off as even more menacing than the words would normally imply. So yeah, great execution of a bad idea.

And, finally, there’s “Art of the Frame”.

For those who don’t know, pitch framing is the art of making the catch in such a way that the umpire is fooled into calling a ball a strike. So what’s the joke here? Zunino doesn’t get the frame into place until after the umpire has already called the pitch a strike. So why bother? Why are we wasting a mound visit on admiring this one pitch, even if it’s the most perfect framing job in history? Do we really want to imply that Felix needs Zunino’s framing to throw strikes?

Okay, yes, the ad has a couple of good lines. I’m particularly enamored of “As a hitter, I find that offensive.” And the batter’s stunned expression is nicely done. But the commercial as a whole is a muddled, confusing mess. As a writer, I find that offensive.

Bottom line, none of this years commercials are going to be classics. Nothing like 2004’s Hall of Fameworthy “The Clapper“. Not even a minor favorite like 2002’s “Radar Gun” or 2013’s “The Wise Ol’ Buffalo“.

Here’s hoping the team is better than the ads.

Consistency

“Spring Training results are meaningless.” We hear that every March, nearly as often as “He’s in the best shape of his life.”

By and large, it’s true. Players put up awesome numbers in March, then fizzle out when the season starts. Or the reverse, of course, coasting through Spring Training with little to show, then having a career year when the games mean something. Winners of the Cactus and Grapefruit League titles rarely win the World Series.

And yet…

It’s still early in Spring Training, but last year’s playoff teams have a combined record of 73-54. Over a 162 game schedule, that .575 record translates into 93 wins. Six of those ten teams had at least 93 wins last year. The Cubs and Yankees had 92 and 91 wins, respectively.

For what it’s worth, the five worst teams last year–the Reds, White Sox, Phillies, Giants, and Tigers–have a combined 26-36 record, the equivalent of 68 wins in the regular season. The 2017 Reds went 68-94, the White Sox were 67-95, and I won’t embarrass fans of the other three teams by quoting their records. No other team in either league had less than 70 wins.

I haven’t done the research to see if this is typical or a freak occurrence. But it does make one ponder the value of consistency. Dynasty by another name, really.

Moving on, slightly.

The Mariners (.481 last year, .417 in Spring Training thus far) looked to have one of the hottest–or at least fastest–outfields in baseball this year. They may yet, but thanks to some fan- and player-vexing injuries, it won’t be at the start of the season.

In need of help, they turned to the free agent market and picked up a 44-year-old left fielder out of Japan.

For a decade, Ichiro was the face of the Mariners. Gone for half a decade. Now he’s back.

I’ve got mixed feelings about the situation, as do many Mariners fans. We miss the Ichiro of the mid-2000s–but we know that’s not who’s joining the team. We thrive on nostalgia and swoon when a well-loved player returns and does well–but we remember the crash-and-burn ending to Ken Griffey Junior’s career.

There’s no question Ichiro can still perform at a major league level. Whether he can do it as an everyday player remains to be seen. We want–need–him to succeed. In theory, he only needs to play every day until the injured players come back. If that’s the way it works out, he should be able to slide back into a fourth outfielder/pinch hitter/late inning replacement role as he’s done with the Marlins and Yankees. But trouble comes in bunches, and there’s no telling whether everyone will come back on the currently-projected timetable.

If one can believe the newspaper reports from 2012, his trade to the Yankees came at his own suggestion, because he felt he could contribute more to the Mariners that way than on the field. If he can’t produce as an everyday player, that same ethic should lead him to retire rather than drag the team down. But that would be a tough choice for anyone, much less a man who wants to play baseball until he’s fifty.

And, of course, it would leave the Ms with an outfielder shortage again–but sometimes there is no good answer to a question.

So we hate the necessity of bringing him back, but love the fact that he’s here. The ovation when he steps onto the field on Opening Day in Seattle will, in all likelihood, rattle windows as far away as Mount St. Helens.

Go Ichiro. Go Mariners.

Now!

Baseball is upon us and everyone around here is getting in the mood.

They’re coming out of hiding.
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Checking to be sure they’ve got all their gear.
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Come to think of it, this may explain a lot about the relationship between ‘Nuki and Rufus. NL vs. AL. Both teams with storied pasts–though, granted, the Giants is a heck of a lot longer and holds more stories–trying to return to the glory. And yet, at the end of the playoffs, there can be only one. Very Highlander.

But I digress.

They’re making sure everything still fits.
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Even if they’re a little unclear on some of the concepts.
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Never mind. Play ball!
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