Sunday, August 8, 2010
Seattle's Greatest Sports Failure
Seattle is a city well accustomed to sports disappointment. The 93-94 Seattle Supersonics had the best regular season record, only to lose to the Denver Nuggets in Round 1 of the playoffs. The Seattle Seahawks had a fantastic regular season in 2005 going 13-3 earning a trip to the Super Bowl. Disappointment reached new heights as the Steelers/Referees defeated the Seahawks 20-10. This list could go on, with disappointments like UW vs. UCONN (rip Hamilton anyone?) and the 2001 Seattle Mariners (116 wins, lost in ALCS). Within all the failure and disappointment of Seattle Sports I would rank the 2010 Seattle Mariners as the greatest failure in Seattle sports history.
Expectations for the 2010 Seattle Mariners were high coming into the season. The 2009 version of the Mariners was a very pleasant surprise. Coming off a disaster 2008 season, the Mariners pitched and defensed their way to a very encouraging 85-77 record. The off-season served to raise expectations even higher for the 2010 team. Jack Zduriencik added versatile Chone Figgins and made the splash of the off season acquiring ace Cliff Lee at a bargain price from Philadelphia. The Mariners also re-sigined Erik Bedard and locked up Franklin Guitierez and Felix Hernandez to long to term contracts. Zduriencik and his emphasis on pitching and defense were the talk of the pre-season. ESPN the Magazine and Sports Illustrated had feature articles on the M's as the trendy pick to win the west. Mariner fans drooled at the prospect of a post-season rotation of Felix-Cliff Lee-Erik Bedard. Ichiro and Chone Figgins were going to create havoc on the base paths and our Milton Bradley and Jose Lopez were going to be steady, if not spectacular run producers.
Today however, the Mariners sit at 42-70, third worst record in the major leagues. Cliff Lee has been traded, Milton Bradley has been hurt, suspended, and terrible when in the lineup. Franchise icon Ken Griffey Jr. retired after an ugly end to his brilliant career. Mariners fans are once again looking at August and September with an eye to the future and our talented young players in AAA. So why are we here? How did a season that looked so promising end up as a total failure? Four reasons stand out:
1) MIA in the Middle. I'm referring to the middle of the Mariners batting order. The Mariners rank 30th (out of 30 MLB teams) in every major offensive category including batting average, home runs, on base %, slugging %, and OPS (on base + slugging). Several Mariners have had career worst offensive seasons including Jose Lopez, Milton Bradley, Ken Griffey Jr (now retired) and Casey Kotchman. Some writers suggested that despite all their positive off seasons moves the Mariners still needed to add a middle of the order run producer. Without hitters that can drive in runners with power, the Mariners are forced into a position where they need 4-5 consecutive "small ball" hits to produce a single run. This has also not happened, leaving the Mariners starved for runs and leading the league in shutouts against and 1 run games.
2) Trouble at the Top. The top of the order, that is. Ichiro-Figgins looked like they would be the new, dynamic, 1-2 punch the Mariners had lacked in previous years. Ichiro gets on, Figgins works the count, both of them steal bases all over the place...PRESTO, offense! Far from it. Ichiro has had a solid, but uninspiring season hitting .310 with 28 stolen bases. Until a recent hot streak Chone Figgins had hovered around a .200 batting average all season, making his $9 million dollar contact look more like a ball and chain, rather then a value. Chone and Ichiro have not clicked and it has sunk the Mariners. Whether it is age slowing Ichiro down, or changing positions in the field and in the batting order that has thrown Figgins off the Mariners failure falls heavily on these two guys.
3) Bull in the Pen. One of the greatest (and most surprising) strengths of the 09 M's was the bullpen. David Aardsma emerged as a go-to closer. Shawn Kelly and Shawn White surprised as solid middle guys, and Mark Lowe was as good an 8th inning set-up man as there was. Not so this year. Mark Lowe was hurt early in the season, not pitching like himself, and eventually DL'd for the rest of the season and traded to the Rangers. Sean Kelly was good but injury prone again, and Sean White demonstrated what some people claimed all along, that last years success was a fluke. Aardsma's numbers don't look terrible at first glance, but early in the season he blew key saves against the White Sox and Angels that were the catalyst for the M's long, downward slide.
4) Bad Grades in Lab Class. Team Chemistry Lab that is. Plenty of fingers to point in this situation. Griffey (reportedly) falling asleep in the clubhouse; Milton Bradley blowing up and then taking a leave of absence for personal problems; Mike Sweeney challenging everyone to a fight; and Chone Figgins trying to go MMA on Don Wakamatsu. A strength of last years team has been a failure this year. Different analysts value chemistry in varying amounts, but no one will argue that this years Mariners clubhouse has been a dysfunctional group and that dysfunction has negatively affected performance on their field.
This years Mariners are at the top of Seattle sports failure. The failure has not been as dramatic or instantaneous as some (Rip Hamilton again). Instead it has been a long process of what the Fugee's called "Killing me Softly", or in this case, "Killing Me Slowly".
Honorable Mention Seattle Sports Failure: 5) 2008 Huskies Football (0-12) 4) 97-98 Sonics (losing to the Bulls in the Finals) 3) 2001 Seattle Mariners (116 wins, lose in ALCS 2) 2005 Seattle Seahawks Superbowl.