Downs and Ups

I wouldn’t have thought I’d have reason to be thankful to Chevrolet.

Sunday night, I happened to notice that not only was Chevy paying for parking at Tuesday’s Mariners/Athletics game, but they were also partially subsidizing tickets in one section of normally-cheap seats. So, in theory, one could attend the game and pay only the cost of an abnormally-cheap seat: $5.

I decided to go.

That five dollar ticket wound up costing $10.25 by the time all the various fees were added, but considering that parking alone is normally $20, I was still well ahead.

The expedition didn’t start well. On Monday I got an email from the As informing me that the parking lots would open at 2:00, and they expected the lots to be filled to capacity. So I left earlier than I normally would have for a 7:00 game, figuring to watch batting practice, and generally groove on the experience. When I arrived at 3:15–and, for the record, there were a half-dozen cars lined up when I got there–the gates were locked and the guard was adamant that they wouldn’t open “until sixteen hundred”. He liked that phrase, and repeated it several times during our brief conversation.

Once they finally let us all into the parking lot, we had another wait because the gates to the stadium didn’t open until 4:30. And yes, we had to go through metal detectors. Empty pockets, let them search our bags; at least we got to keep our shoes on. The new normal.

Finally inside, I made my way to the food truck plaza. Back in February I expressed some concern about traffic flow in and out of the plaza. I didn’t have any trouble, but the only entrance I found was through a narrow hallway where ushers and food service workers were gathered and clocking in. I can’t imagine that the hallway clogs with pedestrians closer to game time.

Once you make it out to the plaza, though, it’s quite nice.
10-1
I don’t know if I was too early or if plans have changed, but the promised “eight to 16” trucks were actually five. But they all looked good. I eventually settled on a catfish po’boy from Southern Comfort Kitchen.
10-2
Very tasty, though a bit more vegetation would have been nice. Catfish needs roughage.

In retrospect, I’m very glad I didn’t go to the regular food stands. Wednesday, Sports Illustrated released their health ratings of MLB stadium food sellers. They only got data for 28 of the 30 ballparks, but the Coliseum’s food stands ranked 27th. (Note to Jackie: Camden Yards ranked 26th. Bring your own dinner!)

I knew my seat wasn’t going to be the greatest, but it turned out to be worse than I feared.
10-3
Okay, not quite that bad. Here’s another look with enough zoom to more accurately represent how it was with the naked eye:
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Not so bad as all that, you might think. The problem is that I’m somewhat acrophobic. Every time I leaned forward, I saw this:
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I didn’t even make it all the way through batting practice. Fifteen minutes after I sat down, my arm was aching from the death-grip I had on my chair. Since there didn’t seem to be any chance of installing a seat belt, I admitted defeat and paid to upgrade to a seat on the lower level.
10-6
That red asterisk marks my original seat as seen from my upgraded spot.

On the bright side, they only charged me the difference in price and didn’t add any new service charges or handling fees.

I’m going to digress here. I know, what a surprise, right? The rise of electronic and print-at-home tickets is robbing us of emotionally-valuable souvenirs. Would you really want something like this as a keepsake?
10-7
Too big to keep pristine, flimsy printer paper, three different barcodes, and an advertisement. Not the stuff of which memories are made, not when compared to the real thing, printed on cardboard, crisp and shiny.
10-8
It screams “Baseball!” where the first example could be a ticket for anything.

Okay, digression over. Surrendering the cheap seat was the low point of the evening. I was the only person in the entire section in my original seat; downstairs I was sitting right behind a group of four Mariners fans taking a mini-vacation. In front of them was a family of five from the Netherlands taking a decidedly non-mini vacation. They were rooting for the As, but the kids, all under ten, were so happy to be at the ballpark that I forgave their sin. It was the last day of a tour around California, Arizona, Utah, and Nevada and the parents were obviously tired. But they stayed for the entire game–and, I can’t help but point out, the kids stayed awake and involved the whole time. Better than all too many adults in these benighted times.

Not that the game started well for the Mariners. The As scored three in the first, and by the end of the fifth inning they were leading 6-2. Adding insult to injury, the As’ final run came on a homerun, after which everyone in our section of the stadium was awarded a coupon for a free pizza. Or at least something resembling pizza.
10-9
(Pardon the added text. I wouldn’t want anyone to be tempted to try to scam a freebie from Round Table by printing a copy. Or at least not without doing some work to clean it up first.)

In fairness, my objections to Round Table have more to do with their advertising slogan than their food. The latter is unobjectionable at worst. The former–“The last honest pizza”–is offensive at best.

Then the evening improved. The kids from the Netherlands made it onto the big scoreboard screen, much to their delight. And the Mariners stopped giving up runs and started scoring them. It was 6-4 after six innings, 6-5 after seven, and tied at six after eight. No scoring in the ninth, so we even got extra baseball before the Mariners won it in the tenth thanks to a two-out homerun. Can’t write it any better than that.

Earlier in the evening, around the time the As were taking that 3-0 lead, Kansas City and Tampa Bay were losing their games. So Wednesday morning the Wild Card standings looked rather interesting, and not just from the perspective of a Mariners fan.
10-a

Mind you, with the Mariners winning again Wednesday and both the Rays and Royals* losing again, the standings are even more pleasant now, but that’s beside the point.

* In case you weren’t watching the Royals lose to the Cardinals last night, it took a cat to give the Cards the victory:

Heck of a roller coaster ride Tuesday.

Thanks, Chevy.

SAST 06

I need to close out a few open issues from recent blog posts, so it’s time for a Short Attention Span Theater.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a poor QA/good customer service issue I had with the Project Fi Travel Trolley.

I’m pleased to report that Swyft customer support came through with the promised travel socks. And they’re just as silly as we had hoped.

Let’s be clear: these aren’t the full height compression socks designed to prevent Deep Vein Thrombosis. These are ankle socks. But they have little rubberized bumps on the underside to prevent slippage when you take your shoes off to go through the TSA’s scanners. If you follow the often-quoted advice to take off your shoes on the plane and walk up and down the aisle a couple of times during the flight, they should be fine for that. They even seem rugged enough to wear to bed so you can stagger into the bathroom in the middle of the night without having to hunt for slippers.

Most importantly, though, they’re black, they’re fuzzy–kind of snuggly, in fact–and they’ve got a Project Fi logo on the side. Amusing. And I intend to wear them next time I fly.

And I will test the Travel Trolley again.

Moving on.

Last Thursday, I mused a little about the Mariners’ attempt to get above .500 for the first time this year.

Not only did they win Thursday night behind rookie Andrew Moore, but they also won Friday behind veteran Felix Hernandez.

Friday, they also sent Moore back to the minors. Weird game, baseball.

No, it wasn’t because they were displeased with his performance. Whoever made up the schedule decided the Ms needed two days off this week. Never mind that the All-Star Break is less than two weeks away and will bring almost everyone in the league a four-day holiday.

But with both Monday and Thursday off, the Ms didn’t really need five starting pitchers, so Moore went down to AAA. Chances are he’ll be back with the Mariners sooner rather than later.

But I digress. After that victory Friday the Ms were two games over .500. Celebrations ensued.

Saturday and Sunday, they lost to Houston, the team with the best record in baseball. Tuesday and Wednesday, they lost to Philadelphia, the team with the worst record in baseball.

Just like that, they’re back in familiar territory, two games short of respectability.

But that’s the Mariners for you. Ever since Houston came over from the National League, the Mariners have had trouble beating them. And losses breed.

Even with the losses, though, the Mariners are still only three games out of the Wild Card. Of course, the are eight other teams at three games out or less, so it’s a bit of an uphill climb.

Based on their performance so far this season, I expect the Mariners to bounce around .500 for the next few weeks, until they go to Houston July 17. That’ll put them in a short decline. They’ll recover and get back to .500 or a bit more in August, make a serious run at the Wild Card–and then go into a nose dive when the Astros come to Seattle September 4.

Because Mariners.

Moving on.

Apple is promoting the new iPad Pro it introduced earlier this month. The commercials are in heavy rotation during baseball games.

That’s expected. What isn’t is how stereotyped the ads are. The emo girl who hates everything. The power addict who literally explodes with pleasure. The ghost of a dead laptop.

Really, Apple? If you can’t give us a revolutionary computer–and let’s face it, the iPad Pro may be a heck of a good computer, but it’s neither years ahead of the competition nor unique–can’t you at least give us a revolutionary ad or two? One that doesn’t rely on the same easy compartmentalization we’ve seen in the media for far too long?

That’s How They Make Diamonds

A quick note on yesterday’s Mariners’ game: apparently the kid, better known as Andrew Moore, doesn’t have a problem with pressure. Seven innings, six hits, three runs, four strikeouts, and no walks. Not bad. Not bad at all. Welcome to the big leagues.

Not so much so for Max Povse who also made his MLB debut last night, coming on in relief for Moore: two-thirds of an inning, four hits, three runs, one strikeout. At least he didn’t walk anyone either. Hopefully he’s got that out of his system and he’ll settle down in his next appearance.

Anyway, the Ms are a game over .500 for the first time this season, in sole possession of second place in the AL West–12.5 games behind Houston.

The Mariners had excellent baseball weather. Really. IMNSO, a high in the low seventies and clear skies is just about perfect.

It wasn’t that nice here. Our high was 99. That was outside. Inside, upstairs where I hang out–because that’s where my computer is–it was hotter.

You know who else hangs out upstairs? Rufus.

Do you know what happens to cats when it’s hot?

Their bones turn into jelly, and you wind up with furry puddles of feline scattered around the floor.

Rufus, he’s no dummy. He found a spot directly in front of the air conditioner, and he spent the day like this:
23-1

Yes, I made sure he was breathing before I took the picture. Just to be certain.

Tomorrow is supposed to be cooler. I can’t wait.

Neither can Rufus.

Should We Be Happy?

Weird game, baseball.

In what other sport would doing something legal–something that players do multiple times every day–provoke so much condemnation?

Yeah, I’m talking about last night’s Mariners’ game. Through the first five innings, the Ms looked a lot like my nephew’s Little League team at the plate. All credit to Justin Verlander of the Tigers; he had everything clicking, and he had a perfect game going.

Granted, there was a lot of game left. The chances that he would have stayed perfect the rest of the way were slim. Remember, there have only been 23 perfect games in MLB’s century-plus history.

Not to unduly prolong the suspense, with one out in the sixth inning and four runs behind, the Mariners’ Jarrod Dyson bunted himself aboard. No more perfect game. Five batters after that, the Mariners were only one run down, and Verlander was out of the game. The Ms picked up four more runs the next inning, and won the game.

Pretty smart move by Dyson, huh?

Well…see, baseball has this thing called the “unwritten rules”. That’s no different than any group, really. There’s no law forbidding you to pick your nose in public, but you probably don’t, fearing the scorn of society. Same thing here. The unwritten rules say you don’t bunt to break up a perfect game.

So, Dyson was violating the rules?

Maybe not. The problem with unwritten rules is that they’re unwritten. There’s no Moses carrying a carved tablet down from Cooperstown, New York after his interview with Abner Doubleday.

Some people say the rule only applies in the eighth and ninth innings. Others say it applies all the time–unless you’re down by less than three runs. Still others say “What the hell are you talking about? The only rule is ‘do what you have to to win’!”

Take your pick.

As far as the Mariners and their fans are concerned, though, the most important result of Dyson’s bunt and the team’s subsequent rally is that the Mariners are at .500.

Yeah, 37-37. The last time they were respectable was May 10, when they were 17-17. Before that? 0-0.

The All-Star Break is approaching. The actual midpoint of the season is even closer. And the Mariners have a chance to go over .500 for the first time all season.

That’s big, folks. Really big. Right now, they’re only a game and a half out of the Wild Card. Seriously. The American League sucks this year. It’s quite possible that the final playoff spot could go to a team with a losing record. Not likely, but possible. But in any case, the next few games will be a big factor in whether the Ms decide to sell off players to be better next year, or buy to improve now.

And there are the Mariners, winners of four in a row, looking to extend the streak. They’re going to do everything they can to get past that psychological barrier at .500 and turn themselves into winners, right? Go with their best pitcher and everything.

Well…

Actually, tonight’s starting pitcher is a rookie making his major league debut.

The Mariners’ pitchers have been injury-prone this year*, and part of their less-than-stellar record has been the inconsistent performance of the guys who’ve filled in. Making it back to .500 is a minor miracle, all things considered.

* To be fair, it’s not just the pitchers. At times it’s seemed like the entire team’s been on the disabled list–all at once.

But rather than working with the known quantity that’s gotten them this far, they’re going to take a step into the unknown. In a game that, in a very real sense, will determine the direction of the entire rest of the season for the Mariners.

No pressure, Kid.

Weird game, baseball.

Limping Into Summer

Before I get into today’s real subject, let me take just a moment to remind you that The RagTime Traveler will be released June 6, exactly two weeks from today. June 7, I’ll be signing copies from noon to 1pm at Seattle Mystery Bookshop. Spread the word!

Moving on.

I haven’t written much about baseball this season, largely because it’s been a rather painful year for Seattle–no pun intended. The season has been marred by injuries, bad play, and an overall failure to live up to expectations.

But I can’t keep pulling the covers over my head and hoping the team will improve. So I’m going to pick at the scab a little.

The Mariners are among the youngest teams in Major League Baseball. Only the Rockies and Marlins (founded 1993) and Diamondbacks and Rays (founded 1998) are younger. The Mariners and Blue Jays both joined the league in 1977. I don’t know what, if anything, Toronto is doing to celebrate their team’s 40th anniversary, but Seattle’s advertising theirs fairly heavily.

Apparently, fortieth birthdays can be as depressing for baseball teams as for individuals. As I write this–before any teams take the field on May 23–the Mariners are 20-25, having lost three straight, and sit ten games behind Houston in the AL West. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays won their last game to pull to 19-26, eight and a half games behind New York in the AL East (and one game behind the Mariners in the Wild Card chase, not that either team is showing any sign of contending for those playoff slots).

At least I can take some consolation in the fact that the Mariners aren’t alone in their struggles.

It’s got nothing to do with youth, by the way. Colorado and Arizona are currently first and second in the NL West. Tampa Bay is three games ahead of Toronto, flirting with respectability. Only Miami, at 15-28, is making the middle-aged couple look good.

In case you’re curious, by the way, the next-oldest teams are the Kansas City Royals (18-26), San Diego Padres (16-30), Washington Nationals (formerly the Montreal Expos, 26-17), and Milwaukee Brewers (formerly the Seattle Pilots, 25-19). The evidence suggests that teams who indulge their mid-life crises by moving to another city do well for themselves. But let’s note that the Pilots’ mid-life crisis was when they were a year old. Don’t read too much into the raw numbers.

Anyway, given the fortieth anniversary hype around the Mariners, I started wondering how this year’s team compared to the 1977 team.

For starters, going into play on May 23, the Mariners had won two in a row, raising their record to 16-28. That put them eleven and a half games behind the first place Twins–but a mere four and a half games behind Oakland.

I haven’t found a way to look at player stats as of a particular date, but over the course of the season, Seattle’s leading hitters (based on OPS*) were Leroy Stanton (.852), Ruppert Jones (.778), and Dan Meyer (.762).

* OPS is on-base percentage plus slugging. Today’s statisticians consider it a better measure of a hitter’s value than batting average, which was the stat of choice in 1977. An OPS between .700 and .766 is considered average; an elite hitter will have an OPS above .900.)

Doesn’t sound too hot, does it? If you look at the team as a whole, the Mariners’ batters ranked twenty-first out of twenty-six teams. (The Blue Jays, by the way, ranked twenty-fifth.)

Nor did the numbers look much better defensively. Seattle’s pitchers, led by Enrique Romo and Glenn Abbott, collectively ranked twenty-fifth. (Amusingly, the Blue Jays’ pitchers came in twenty-first.)

The bright side, if you can call it that, was the Mariners’ fielding. Showing off the defensive emphasis that served them so well in the early two-thousand teens*, they came in twelfth in baseball. The Blue Jays showed off their consistency, coming in twenty-fifth in fielding.

* Sarcasm alert.

Given those stats, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to hear that the 1977 Mariners would finish the year at 64-98, thirty-eight games out of first. What might be more surprising is that they didn’t finish dead last in the AL West. Oakland slogged through a 63-98 year to take the West basement. Toronto, meanwhile, proved that consistency isn’t necessarily a virtue. Their 54-107 mark was the worst in baseball that year.

* If you need a dose of schadenfreude, the worst record in MLB’s modern era belongs to the 1916 Philadelphia Athletics, whose 36-117 (.235) sets a standard of futility that will hopefully never be matched. By comparison, the 1977 Blue Jays’ .335 is merely the twenty-third worst, tied with the 1988 Baltimore Orioles (sorry, Jackie).

By comparison with all that doom and gloom, today’s Mariners seem positively respectable. Nelson Cruz has a .947 OPS, twenty-second best in baseball. As of this writing, the team is eleventh in hitting, twenty-fifth in pitching, and eleventh in fielding. Get a few of their starting pitchers off the disabled list, and the Ms could be middle-of-the-pack Wild Card contenders.

OK, that doesn’t sound like much, but it’s all about setting attainable goals. And, lest we forget, the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals finished the regular season 83-78 and won the World Series.

More Ups and Downs

The roller coaster ride continues.

When I last wrote about the MLB playoff chase, Seattle was two games out of the Wild Card with forty-five games remaining. As I said then, they were relevant.

At one point–August 20-22–they were actually the top non-Wild Card team, a mere one game behind the Orioles. Since then, they’ve been as far out as six games back and as close as two.

Before today’s games, they were (wait for it) two games out of the Wild Card. Exactly where they were, except that now there are only ten games left.

They’re still relevant, and they could still make the playoffs, but the odds aren’t nearly as high as they were a month ago. FiveThirtyEight has them at 15%. Ouch.

On the brighter side, they’re at 80-72, so they only need to win three more games to secure a winning season. Not that that’s much of a consolation.

Seven wins would equal their total from 2014. Doable, but unlikely. Less likely, even, than making the playoffs (FiveThirtyEight has their expected final record at 85-77.)

I’m ironically amused to note that my two fallback teams (the Giants and Mets) are currently two of the three teams tied for the NL Wild Card–with a record of 80-72. New York has a 75% chance of making the playoffs and San Francisco, thanks to their embarrassing string of blown games since the All Star Break, is at 59%.

I take some consolation–not much, but some–in the fact that the hated Yankees are given a mere 7% chance of making the playoffs.

But, heck, two games back? Totally doable. It’ll take a lot of help*, but it could happen.

* Detroit, Houston, and either Boston, Toronto, or Baltimore would need to lose a bunch of games, and Houston is the only one of the five with games left against Seattle.

It could. I’ll take odds of one chance in six*–which is probably why I suck at Yahtzee.

* OK, one in six and two-thirds. Close enough.

Seattle has the day off today. Detroit, their primary competition outside of Houston, is playing a doubleheader against the Twins today. A pair of Minnesota victories would drop the Tigers into a tie with the Mariners. A pleasant thought, that.

Anyway, there’s another week and a half on this roller coaster–and the similar ones fans in Detroit, Houston, Baltimore, New York, San Francisco, and St. Louis are riding. Please keep your hands inside the vehicle at all times.

Mood Swings

Baseball is not a game for the weak of heart. And I’m not even talking about playing the game. Even watching it isn’t for those with heart conditions.

Two weeks ago, the Mariners were at .500, clinging to respectability and their fans were starting to mutter about “next year”. I said “They’re not doing well enough to allow one to hope for a turnaround, but they’re also not doing so poorly as to force one to give up on the season.” They were nine games behind Texas in the AL West and six games behind Boston and Toronto for a Wild Card berth.

How true those words proved. In the past fourteen days, the Mariners have played 13 games, winning 11 and losing only 2. That gives them–as the TV commentator pointed out several times last night–the best record in baseball since the All-Star Break. They’re now five and a half games behind Texas and only two back of Boston.

In other words, they’re not in a playoff slot, but they’re relevant. Even more: if they keep winning at their current rate, they’ll finish the season at 101-61. Winning 100 games doesn’t guarantee a team will make the playoffs*, but with the expanded Wild Card, the odds are certainly in favor of getting in.

* Just ask the 1980 Orioles (100-62), the 1993 Giants (103-59), and half a dozen other teams, going back to the 1909 Cubs who finished 104-49, a full seven games behind the Pirates.

Of course, the likelihood of winning 84% of their games over the next six weeks is negligible. According to fans’ guts, which base their estimates on the Mariners’ forty year history, the most probable outcome is an epic collapse in which they lose eighty-four percent of the remaining games to finish at 70-92. That slideplummet could–will, says the gut–begin today against the Angels, who have now lost eleven straight.

Back in reality, of course, the odds are good that the Ms aren’t going to win 101 games and just as good that they’re not going to lose 92. FiveThirtyEight’s updated prediction has them finishing 87-75, with a 44% chance of making the playoffs*. That’s…not bad.

* Since we were talking about the Cubs’ World Series drought two weeks ago, I feel obligated to point out that FiveThirtyEight’s current prediction is for the Cubs to finish at 100-62, with a probability of making the playoffs over 99%. But even with that, FiveThirtyEight gives them only an 18% chance of winning the World Series.

But tell that to the heart. Unless you’re one of those rare people who can sleep on a roller coaster, this is the time of year when your heart gets a real workout. Remember: nobody, not even the lowly Braves (44-74) has been eliminated from the playoffs yet. Any victory could, in theory, be the start of a run like the Mariners have been on for the past two weeks. And any loss could be the start of a plunge to the basement.

So, take your nitro tablets, hold on to the grab bar, and turn on the TV–better yet, collect the family and head to the ballpark, if you haven’t been priced out of it.

Forget Rio; the action is right here. The real playoffs started April 3, and the teams are playing every day.

Tugging the Bandage

Ah, Mariners, how you tease me.

(Full disclosure: this post was written Monday afternoon and updated to include the results of Monday’s game. Be prepared for rapid changes of emotional overtones.)

Last Tuesday, I said that the Mariners could gain a measure of redemption for their embarrassing defeat in their previous game by beating the Red Sox on national television. That would put them back over .500 and provide a measure of hope for their ability to overcome adversity.

As it turned out, they did win that game. And the next one. They lost the final game of the series against the Red Sox, but then won three straight from the Angels, coming from behind in all three games.

5-1 is nice. Not a sign that they’ve turned a corner, much less that next year has arrived. But, combined with Houston’s 1-5 record over the same stretch, it put the Ms into second place in the division. Even more interesting, it means there’s only one team ahead of them in the fight for the second Wild Card. Amusingly, that’s the Red Sox.

But the thing is, the last fifteen years–and especially the last three–have conditioned Mariners’ fans to, as Mel Brooks put it, hope for the best, expect the worst. Before Monday’s games, the Mariners were three games behind the Red Sox in the standings, but they won’t play again this season*. Even if the Ms exceed that expectation of “the worst” they–and we, their fans–have to rely on others to beat the Red Sox.

* That’s “play each other,” naturally. If both teams were done for the year, there wouldn’t be much point in this post. That said, there’s always the chance of a one-game match-up if the two teams are tied for a playoff spot at the end of the season. But be honest: even though MLB would consider that a regular-season game, would you? I doubt I’m the only fan who would think of it as a playoff game.

That’s one way to look at it. Another is that we don’t care about how the Sox do; the important foe is the Tigers, who currently hold the second Wild Card slot. Since the Ms’ can’t control the Red Sox, ignore them and concentrate on beating the Tigers.

Guess who came to town last night? Yup. Detroit ambled in, owners of the best record in baseball since the All-Star Break, ready for a three game series. Since the Mariners were 3 1/2 games back, even sweeping the Tigers the same way they did the Angels wouldn’t put the Ms ahead. At most, it would close the gap while putting the Red Sox into the lead for that last playoff position. And–not-so-odd coincidence–this is the last time the Ms will face the Tigers this season, so they’d be depending on outside help to make up that last half game*.

* For the record, the Mariners have just three games remaining against the Blue Jays, the current first Wild Card team–and as of yesterday, the Ms were five games back. Help needed, no question. And, just to wrap up the possibilities, the Mariners are seven games behind the Rangers for the West title with (gee!) seven head-to-head games left. Help needed there, too.

But a sweep–or even just a series victory–against the Tigers would show that the Mariners are capable of continuing something they’ve started. Maybe it won’t show that they can finish what they start, but at this point, we’re not honestly thinking about anything as long-term as the end of the season. Show us they can put together a winning streak longer than three games*. Then we’ll talk.

* As of Monday, they’d won three in a row six times this season, including the weekend sweep of the Angels, and four in a row twice.

Any rational person would consider the Mariners’ playoff hopes dead along about now. But as Mel Brooks showed–yes, we’re back to him again–sometimes all it takes to bring the dead back to life is an abnormal brain and a bunch of leftover special effects. And you know what? A 5-1 record works just as well.

The preliminary results of the Mariners’ attempt at resurrection? A 3-0 victory. Can they make it a five-game winning streak and clinch the series win? Tune in tonight.

Ouch

It’s been a weird year for the Mariners. You can take that as an explanation of why I haven’t been posting much about baseball. But, yesterday was the “Trading Deadline” and a few words seemed in order.

Last year was…well, disappointing. Having so many pundits picking the Ms to win their division and get back to the playoffs for the first time in living memory* was a thrill. But the team made it clear very early on that there was no way that was going to happen. By August 2, they were ten games under .500 and clinging to a one-game lead over Oakland to avoid the division basement.

* OK, I exaggerate. There are still a few old fogies around who remember 2001. But, lest you forget, that’s the longest current playoff drought in MLB. We’ll come back to this shortly.

When things are that bad, you just sit back and take it one game at a time. Enjoy the victories, and hope for something unusual to happen to distract you from the pain of the losses.

Then came this year. The predictions were rather more modest. FiveThirtyEight, for example, gave the Mariners one chance in three of making the playoffs, and suggested they were looking at finishing two games over .500.

On June 1, they were eight games over, and there was much hemming and hawing among the prophets. By July 1, the prophets were sighing in relief as the Ms had fallen back to three games over. Since then, they’ve gone 11-13 and are, thanks to last night’s loss to the Red Sox, exactly at .500. Thanks a lot, FiveThirtyEight, for setting the bar so high.

Sunday’s game was absolutely typical of the way they’ve played for the past month: group a bunch of runs together, then tell the offense to go home while the defense races the opponent to the end of the game. On Sunday, the Ms put up six runs in the first three innings–one two-run home run in each inning–and then took a solemn oath not to score again. They almost broke that vow in the sixth, when they loaded the bases with no outs, but managed to keep their honor intact when the next three batters went strike out, strike out, pop out.

Meanwhile, Chicago picked up two runs in the fifth, one in the seventh, and three in the ninth, thanks in large part to a catcher–traditionally among the slowest of runners–beating out a potential game-ending double play, and a wild pitch so bad that, had it been a movie, it would have made Plan 9 from Outer Space look like a potential Oscar winner by comparison.

My point is not that the team is bad. Far from it–they are, after all, still at .500, the minimum baseline for respectability. But they’re showing a frustrating lack of ability to finish what they start.

And frustrating is the word for it. They’re not doing well enough to allow one to hope for a turnaround, but they’re also not doing so poorly as to force one to give up on the season. So when something unusual happens*, it’s hard to revel in the weirdness.

* Such as, for example, the Cubs pitcher getting three outs with the bases loaded in the sixth inning, playing an inning and two-thirds in left field (and making a damned impressive catch), then returning to the mound to get the last out of the eighth by picking a runner off first base. For example.

What’s a fan to do? Hang in there, keep watching, and don’t give up the faith.

And, of course, remember that, while the Mariners have gone longer than anyone else without a playoff appearance and have never won a World Series in their thirty-nine season existence, there are others arguably worse off. The Chicago White Sox survived a thirty-nine year pennant drought (1919-1959). The Mariners will, barring a miracle, surpass that this year, but there are nine teams who have gone forty or more seasons without winning their league and going to the World Series. The Washington Nationals’ forty-seven year drought (which includes their time as the Montreal Expos) pales beside the Washington Senators/Texas Rangers dismal forty-nine year stumble that finally ended in 2010.

And even that’s nothing compared to the Cubs. Entire generations have been born, grown up, raised families, and died since the Cubs last won the National League pennant, back in 1945. Seventy years. Tack on another generation since they last won the Series. That was in 1908.

So there’s a certain amount of room for schadenfreude among the barely respectable. But there’s also an example there.

Those Cubs have a good shot at ending their streak this year. At the moment, they’ve got the best record in baseball. That’s no guarantee that they won’t implode over the next two months and miss the playoffs. Even if they make the playoffs with the best record, that’s no guarantee they’ll win it all–or even win any playoff games. But they’re in the hunt, even more so than last year (57-47 on August 2, finished at 97-65, taking the second Wild Card and making it to the NL Championship series before being swept by the Mets.)

Next year may be a long way away, not only for the Mariners, but for the thirteen teams looking up at them in the standings.

But the odds are good that none of those fourteen teams are looking at a seventy year wait before “next year” arrives. If the Cubs fans can hang on this long and still fill Wrigley Field on a regular basis, nobody slogging through the last part of a frustrating–or even disappointing–season has any excuse to give up.

The Mariners’ embarrassing defeat Sunday was on ESPN. Tonight they face the Red Sox on the MLB Network. What better opportunity for redemption could one ask for? A chance to beat the Red Sox–one of the broadcast industry’s darlings–on national TV to move back over .500? Sign me up!

No reason why next year can’t start today.

Short Cuts

Following up on Tuesday’s post, it seems that Cyber Monday isn’t quite as obsolete as I thought. According to Associated Press reports, it’s been the single largest online shopping day for the past six years, with online spending topping $3.1 billion this year.

There’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg thing going on here, of course. Retailers schedule big sales because they expect people to be shopping heavily that day, and people shop heavily because they get big sales–without sleeping in a parking lot–that day.

But my I stand behind my recommendation: let’s kill off Cyber Monday as a discrete entity. Fold that big sale into Black November: “The last sale of the Thanksgiving Season!” The income potential will be the same, and the rebranding will allow retailers to slide gracefully into Quiet Time. While we, the consumers, are catching our breaths and allowing our credit cards to cool off, you retailers can be fine-tuning your plans for the December sales and beefing up your server capacity to handle the expected onslaught. Win-win. Who’s with me?

Moving on.

On Thanksgiving, I suggested that Mariners’ GM Jerry Dipoto should take the day off. I’m pleased to see that he took my advice. Not even a hint of a trade on Turkey Day.

But you can’t keep a trader out of the market forever. Tuesday, the Mariners traded the Trumbone to Baltimore. Last June, I likened the usefulness of the Mariners’ acquisition of Mark Trumbo to repainting the Bay Bridge. I stand by that. The Ms needed base runners and relief pitchers, and what they got in Trumbone was a man who hits home runs and strikes out. And, unless your name is Nelson Cruz*, Safeco Field isn’t a good place to hit home runs.

* Mark Trumbo’s name isn’t Nelson Cruz.

That said, watching him bat was–once he got past the first month-plus of horrible performance–a lot of fun. Put him in a park more suited to his bat, don’t try to make him play the outfield, and he should do much better than the 0.8 WAR he put up for the Mariners last year.

Jackie, I know giving you guys the Trumbone doesn’t make up for grabbing Cruz last year, but I hope it helps a bit. Enjoy the show (now less than three months away, figuring to the first Spring Training games).

Moving on again.

For the past few days, I’ve been hearing a lot of complaints about how horrible the news is lately–terrorism, flooding in Chennai, rampant insanity among political candidates, etc., etc., ad nauseum. At least one radio station here has been asking listeners to send in suggestions for music to brighten people’s spirits.

Let’s not get carried away. There’s a lot of sucky news, yes. But no more so than any other time in the past. I suspect an epidemic of Post-Thanksgiving Syndrome. We’ve been focused on our blessings for a week or so, and now that we’re starting to look outward again, the same problems we had in mid-November look worse now than they did then, simply by contrast.

Don’t get me wrong. The bad news is bad. People are dying. But complaining that there’s more bad news than ever doesn’t help, especially when it’s not true. You know what does help? Contributing some time. Contributing some money. Being there for someone who needs a shoulder to lean on.

Then do something good for yourself. Pat a cat. Watch the rain take a tiny bit off the edge of the drought. Heck, go buy yourself something nice in a Cyber Week sale. Whatever it takes. Hang in there.