Fatally Flawed Phillies: Can Philadelphia Win the World Series with Brad Lidge?

All the Ryan Howard HR's in the world won't mean a thing if the Phillies can't figure out their bullpen.

All the Ryan Howard HR's in the world won't mean a thing if the Phillies can't figure out their bullpen, and soon.

After a dominating showcase of offensive firepower and clutch pitching in last year’s World Series victory over the Tampa Bay Rays, the Philadelphia Phillies quickly found themselves a favorite to become the first team since the 1999-2000 New York Yankees to repeat as winners of the Fall Classic. The team bolstered their already prolific offense with the signing of free agent Raul Ibanez, teaming the veteran slugger with Chase  Utley, Jimmy  Rollins, Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth to form the NL’s most feared and complete lineup. And as if that wasn’t enough ammunition to capture another pennant, Philadelphia added an one of the game’s elite starting pitchers in reigning AL Cy Young winner Cliff Lee. World Series hero Cole Hamels was expected to be even better with one more year of maturity, and a healthy Brett Myers and Joe Blanton would serve as worthy counterparts in the middle of the Phillies rotation. Rookie J.A. Happ and a revitalized Pedro Martinez were both pleasant surprises and gave Philadelphia five quality starters to trot out to the hill. A stacked lineup, a quality starting five and a closer coming off one of the best seasons in recent memory…it seemed as if the all the pieces were in place for the Phillies to repeat as World Series champions. That is, until Brad Lidge took the mound.

The difference between the Brad Lidge of 2008 and the Brad Lidge of this year is so gargantuan that it wouldn’t come as a surprise if the real Lidge was abducted by aliens after last season’s historic run and replaced with a cheap knockoff version. In 2008 Lidge was nearly flawless, converting all 41 save chances on the strength of a 1.95 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 69 innings. Believe it or not, he got even better in the postseason, going a perfect 7 for 7 in save opportunities with a 0.96 ERA and recording the final out of the World Series. At only 31 years of age, the Phillies felt like they had found their long-term solution at closer. That is, until Brad Lidge took the mound.

Lidge hasn't received many high-fives for his performance this year.

Lidge hasn't received many high-fives for his performance this year.

Lidge is no stranger to meltdowns. After coughing up a titantic go-ahead 3-run HR to Albert Pujols in Game 5 of the 2005 NLCS something snapped and he clearly wasn’t the same pitcher afterwards, giving up a walk-off HR to Scott Podsednik in Game 2 of the World Series and a game-winning hit to Jermaine Dye in Game 4. The hangover from Pujols’ homer lasted throughout 2006 and 2007; Lidge blew 14 saves combined in those two years with a cumulative ERA of 4.36. He was demoted to the minors and moved to a set-up role, all to help him regain his confidence, but it never really clicked until he left the Astros and joined the Phillies last season. He looked like he had it all together again after a scintillating 2008 regular season and playoff run, which made it all the more the more puzzling why Lidge struggled so mightily this year. It looked like he had finally conquered the mental demons that haunted him since the 2005 postseason. That is, until Brad Lidge took the mound.

How bad has Brad Lidge been this year? So bad that if he was a free agent this off-season it’s unlikely that even the Nationals would try and sign him. In 57 innings Lidge has given up 47 earned runs for a whopping 7.34 ERA and has blown 11 saves in 42 chances. After only giving up 2 HRs last season, Lidge has served up 11 longballs in 2009, which helps to explain his 0-8 record. Sure even the game’s best closers blow 4-5 saves in a season, but 11? The Phillies still have been one of the NL’s better squads all year and they already clinched the East, but this team should be considered a disappointment because they had 100-win potential. That is, until Brad Lidge took the mound.

charlie-manuel

Charlie Manuel has some tough decisions to make heading into October.

So where do the Phillies go from here? Do they keep sending Lidge out to the mound hoping that one good outing will get him back on track or do they keep him off the playoff roster and pray that he never shows up at Citizen’s Bank Park again? Charlie Manuel has shown himself to be extremely loyal, but at what point does loyalty morph into utter stupidity? Philadelphia has other options in the bullpen, both Brett Myers and Ryan Madson have prior closing experience, but neither one is a sure thing. A team that should be riding high after clinching a playoff spot finds itself with more questions than answers in regard to their bullpen, and they only have four more games to figure it out. Despite having five players with at least 20 HRs, four players with at least 15 stolen bases, last year’s World Series MVP and the 2008 AL Cy Young winner the Phillies aren’t going to win the Fall Classic this October. Everything was lining up for Philadelphia to celebrate back-to-back World Series titles. That is, until Brad Lidge took the mound.

Next Stop: The World Series? Red Hot Yankees Clinch AL East with 100th Win

Derek Jeter has played a major role in helping the Yankees return to the postseason.

Derek Jeter has played a major role in helping the Yankees return to the postseason after a one-year absence.

Left out of the postseason for the first time in over a decade last season the Yankees came into 2009 with a chip on their shoulders and one goal in mind: reclaim the AL East from Boston. New York did just that and more on Sunday night, securing homefield advantage throughout the playoffs with a 4-2 victory against the Red Sox while winning the division for the first time since 2006 and becoming the first team in the majors to 100 wins in the process.

While the Yankees’ roster was overhauled in the offseason it was some familiar faces that helped the Bronx Bombers complete a sweep of their arch rival Boston. The Yankee’s new all-time hit leader Derek Jeter went 2-4 in the leadoff spot, Andy Pettite pitched 6 innings of 2-run baseball and, of course, Mariano Rivera was there to shut the door in the 9th. Along with Jorge Posada, those three players are the only remaining members of the last Yankees team to win a World Series (2000), and will be leaned on heavily as New York moves into the post-season to face the winner of the AL Central (Detroit or Minnesota). If tonight, and the other 155 games of the season are any indication, the Yankees will be a handful for opponents come October.

Mark Teixeria has led a potent Yankee's offense that is first in the majors in runs.

Mark Teixeria has led a potent Yankee's offense that is first in the majors in runs.

The key to New York’s resurgence this season has been their new look lineup. The Yankee’s offense has been unstoppable all season, leading the American League in runs, slugging, on-base percentage and OPS. The indefatigable Jeter is putting up one of his best seasons ever at age 35, hitting .333 with 17 HRs, 65 RBIs and 30 SBs. Newcomer Mark Teixeria has been on a tear since the return of Alex Rodriguez to the lineup, and will likely garner some MVP votes with a line of  .294-38 HRs-120 RBIs. A-Rod, despite the steroid scandal and a balky hip, is still one of the game’s most feared sluggers and will look to shake a track record for inconsistent playoff production. In addition to the big three, New York boasts a wealth of talented hitters throughout their order, from a revitalized Robinson Cano (.321-24 HR-80 RBI) to spark plug Nick Swisher (.250-27 HR-79 RBI-.370 OBP) and the seemingly ageless Johnny Damon (.284-24 HR-79 RBI-106 R), New York’s potent combination of left and right-handed hitters may prove to be too much for any pitching staff this postseason.

The Yankees will need Sabathia to come up big if they plan to return to the Fall Classic.

The Yankees will need Sabathia to come up big (no pun intended) if they plan to return to the Fall Classic.

Though much maligned throughout the season for their inconsistency and lack of depth behind C.C. Sabathia, the Yankees’ pitching staff has still managed to post strong numbers, ranking 2nd in the AL in batting average against, 2nd in WHIP and 6th in ERA. Sabathia was signed in the offseason for a king’s ransom and so far has proved his mettle with a record of 19-7, 3.21 ERA and 194 Ks. First-year Yankee A.J. Burnett has had his ups-and-downs this season, but has the stuff to dominate games (184 Ks in 195 innings) if he can keep the walks to a minimum. Joba Chamberlain’s first season as a starter has been a disappointment (9-6, 4.72 ERA), and New York may try to keep his post-season starts to a minimum as he reaches a career high in innings pitched but fellow youngster Phil Hughes has thrived since being converted to a reliever (8-3, 2.99 ERA) and has led a surprisingly effective Yankees’ bullpen. New York’s stalwart starting pitcher Pettite has been consistent all season long (14-7, 4.11 ERA) and has a strong postseason track record that includes winning the ALCS MVP in 2001.If New York does have an Achilles heel, it’s their pitching staff, but with their prolific offense all the Yankee’s pitchers need to do is keep the games close and hand the ball off to Rivera in the 9th; he’s as good as ever with 44 saves and a 1.82 ERA in 2009.

After another win over the suddenly old Boston Red Sox, few will argue that New York’s offseason spending spree was a success as the Yankees march into October on the strength of acquisitions like Sabathia and Teixeria. New York has looked nearly unbeatable in the 2nd half of the season, and with the ever-clutch Jeter and Rivera hungry for another taste of glory, will anyone stand in the Yankees way in the playoffs?

New York fans sure have plenty of reasons to smile these days as their beloved Yankees return to the postseason and look like a favorite to capture their first World Series in nine years. Who says money can’t buy you happiness?

Bill Bavasi’s Biggest Bungle: Lingering Effects of the Erik Bedard Deal

Despite an abnormally large cranium, Bavasi displayed little intelligence.

Despite an abnormally large cranium, Bavasi displayed little intelligence with the M's.

When the signing of free-agents like Richie Sexson and Carlos Silva aren’t the biggest mistakes your team’s front office has made, you’re either a part of Raider Nation (A kicker in the first round?), a long suffering Pittsburgh Pirates’ supporter (17 straight losing seasons, but who’s keeping track?), or in this instance, a Mariners’ fan still coming to grips with the depths of Bill Bavasi’s inept tenure as general manager. At least John McLaren didn’t sucker punch third base coach Bruce Hines while he was manager…we think.

During his time as general manager, Bill Bavasi was caught up in a neck-and-neck contest with Clay Bennett and David Stern to see who could become the most hated man in Seattle, and somehow Bavasi beat out the duo that stole basketball from the city. Ken Griffey Jr.’s triumphant return to Seattle this season brought untold joy to the denizens of the Emerald City, but it paled in comparison to the excitement that rippled through the streets when the sad-sack Bavasi was finally given his pink slip last season. Anytime a fanbase is more excited about the firing of a GM than the return of its greatest player ever, well, then things probably just aren’t going as planned.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. But mainly, the worst of times.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. But mainly, the worst of times.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened to Mariners’ fans after more and more of Bavasi’s “brilliant” acquisitions went up in flames. His signings of has-beens like Sexson, Silva and Jose Vidro and questionable draft picks (Jeff Clement over Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun and Troy Tulowitzki in 2005 and Brandon Morrow over Tim Lincecum and Clayton Kershaw in 2006) put the Mariners’ organization in a hole they are still digging themselves out of. But Bavasi’s worst move of all, which is really saying something, was the fateful trade of February 8, 2008 that brought convicted felon Canadian southpaw Erik Bedard to Seattle.

The Mariners were fresh off a 2007 season that saw them go 88-74 and there was plenty of buzz about what the team could do in the AL West. Bavasi was bullish about his team’s chances in 2008 and figured that one big move was all Seattle needed to compete for the World Series. The trade had been in the works for quite some time before being finished in early February, with the Mariners sending a package of five players to Baltimore in return for Bedard who was coming off a season in which he went 13-5 with a 3.17 ERA and 221 K’s in 182 innings, finishing 5th in the Cy Young race.

Bavasi’s acquisition of Bedard in and of itself wasn’t a bad idea; here was a young, quality left-handed pitcher with plus stuff and the ability to create  dominating 1-2 combination with Felix Hernandez. The real problem was that Bavasi greatly overvalued the talent within the Mariners organization and failed to realize that 2007, a season in which the Mariners won 14 games more than they lost despite a negative run differential, was a statistical anomaly and not a harbinger of things to come. Seattle players like Jose Vidro and Richie Sexson had overperformed, and thus were due for a regression in 2008, and adding Silva to the starting rotation was a mistake from the beginning. The good news is he’s only around for two more seasons. The bad news is that he’s due $24 million over that span. That’s no bueno.

Adam Jones ascension to stardom had made a bad trade even worse.

Adam Jones ascension to stardom has made a bad trade even worse.

In addition to misjudging the playoff chances of his team with the addition of Bedard, Bavasi also sold the farm, quite literally, in order to bring in the lefty. Bavasi’s time as GM of the Mariners was marked by his extereme myopia, and this was never more clear than when he sent Adam Jones, George Sherrill, Chris Tillman, Kam Mickilio and Tony Butler to Baltimore. Jones was the top prospect in the M’s organization, a speedy outfielder with 30-30 potential and tremendous range in the outfield. After experiencing some growing pains his first full season with the Orioles, Jones came into his own in 2009, hitting .277-19 HRs-70 RBIs-10 SBs before being shutdown with a leg injury.  The Mariners certainly could have used his services in left-field this season, a position manned by the likes of Endy Chavez, Michael Saunders and Ryan Langerhans. Can you imagine an outfield of Franklin Gutierrez, Ichiro and Jones…there would never be a double hit by an opposing team in Safeco Field. Quite simply, Jones is a star and the player that the M’s will most miss down the road from this deal.

But it wasn’t just Jones that left town for Baltimore. Sherrill was a shutdown lefty for the M’s out of the bullpen, who became a closer for the Orioles, and is currently enjoying the best season of his career since being traded to the L.A. Dodgers (0.40 ERA, 15 hits in 22 innings with LA). Tillman is a tall right-hander starter with the potential to become a staff ace (8-6, 2.70 ERA, 154 Ks in 135 innings at Triple-A), and at only 21-years-old, should be a top flight starter for the Orioles over the next 5-6 years. Mickilio, in addition to being one of the tallest players in the league at 6’9″, has been a strong arm for Baltimore out of the bullpen, with a 2.63 ERA and 14 Ks in 13 innings this season. The final player in the deal, lefty Tony Butler, has struggled with injuries in the minors but is still only 19-years-old and if he develops could make this one of the most lopsided deals in the recent history of baseball, in the same breath as the Bartolo Colon for Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips and Grady Sizemore deal between the Cleveland Indians and Montreal Expos…a trade so bad that the Expos don’t even exist anymore!  

Erik Bedard sightings in Safeco were few and far between.

Erik Bedard starts at Safeco were less common than Bigfoot sightings.

To recap, the Mariners traded an All-Star outfielder and closer, a future #1 starter, and two more promising arms in return for a pitcher who threw a combined 164 innings in two seasons. Bedard hasn’t been bad when he has pitched (11-7, 3.24 ERA, 9 Ks/9 innings) but with the recent news that he will be shutdown for the remainder of the season with yet another shoulder injury, he isn’t exactly endearing himself to Seattle fans. Bedard has indicated that he would be interested in returning to the Mariners next season, but would the Mariners or their fans even want him back?

Unless the lefty agrees to a 10-year deal for the league minimum and promises to start taking enough tough pills to stay off the disabled list, Seattle should show Bedard the door at the end of the season and put all memories of this horrendous trade to rest. Of course that won’t be easy as Adam Jones and Chris Tillman continue to develop into stars and the Mariners continue to toil in mediocrity, but it never hurts to dream.

Thanks Bill Bavasi. Seattle will never forget you…for all the wrong reasons.

If Mark Twain Played Baseball: The Top 10 Quotes of the Enigmatic Ichiro Suzuki.

A skilled batsman and wordsmith, Ichiro is the ultimate double-threat.

A skilled batsman and wordsmith, Ichiro is the ultimate double-threat.

There’s little question that Ichiro Suzuki is one of the best hitters in all of baseball. The Mariners right-fielder just recorded his 2,000th career hit since arriving from Japan, and is on pace for a record 9th consecutive 200+ hit season. His distinctive batting stance, rocket arm and ubiquitous stretching are known the world round, yet off the field the mysterious Suzuki maintains a low profile; a rare star who shies away from the public eye.

The only real glimpses that fans get into the brain of this hitting machine come through his interviews, where he has shown equal skill in producing memorable quotes as he has slapping singles through a hole in the infield. Ichiro has opened up more to the media since he first landed in the States back in 2001, but it seems the more he speaks, the less people understand him. The star rightfielder for the Seattle Mariners has graced America with his opinions on everything from the city of Cleveland to female bowlers, here’s a look at some of his best:

10. On his first match-up in America against Dice-K: “I hope he arouses the fire that’s dormant in the innermost recesses of my soul. I plan to face him with the zeal of a challenger.” (Lefton, Brad. Dice-K vs. Ichiro: History to Repeat. Seattle Times; April 19, 2007)

9. Speaking to Japanese reporters about the advice he received from his dog, Ikky, on whether to resign with the Mariners: “He said, ‘Woof, woof, woof,’ which meant, ‘Stay, stay, stay’. Of course, I listened.” (Issenberg, Sasha. Parsing the Increasingly Bizarre Sayings of Ichiro Suzuki. Slate.com; August 1, 2007)

8. Talking about his initial encounter with Ken Griffey Jr: “It was the first time I can remember being moved by the beauty of a baseball player’s action on the field.” (Lefton, Brad. Mariners Magazine. August 2009)

The gears never stop turning in the head of the All-Star turned quote machine.

The gears never stop turning in the head of the Mariners' All-Star turned quote machine.

7. After misplaying a flyball in Cleveland: “The ball became the same color as the sky. So, I wasn’t able to see it. It’s not that I had my eyes closed. I was lacking mental signals. I was sending mental signals for the ball not to come my way, because during that time of day it’s impossible for me to see the ball so I lacked mental signals. I lacked in that area.” (Baker, Geoff. Mariners Blog. Seattle Times. May 30, 2007)

6. Referring to the Mariners’ struggles in the first half of 2006: “If there is a problem, we need to notice what creates the problem. The problem usually isn’t just on the cover. You need to look much deeper. For example, if we’re talking about a tree and the tree has a problem, you need to look at the root. But you cannot see the root. The mistake is to keep watering the fruit. That’s not going to solve anything.” (Harding, Thomas. Ichiro: Mariners Need to Look Within. MLB.com; July 10, 2006)

5. Ichiro on whether he sought out help when struggling at the plate: “If I’m in a slump, I ask myself for advice.” (Whiting, Robert. Around the Horn: Interview with Ichiro. japanesebaseball.com; November 11, 2002)

4. His opinion of Tiger Woods; “Tiger is a great golfer, but … when you say athlete, I think of Carl Lewis. When you talk about [golfers or race-car drivers], I don’t want to see them run. It’s the same if you were to meet a beautiful girl and go bowling. If she’s an ugly bowler, you are going to be disappointed.” (Issenberg, Sasha. Parsing the Increasingly Bizarre Sayings of Ichiro Suzuki. Slate.com; August 1, 2007)

Is Ichiro a better hitter or philosopher?

Is Ichiro a better hitter or philosopher?

3. Ichiro’s thoughts on becoming a designated hitter: “I think one of the requirements for being a DH is weighing at least 200 pounds, so maybe if I was that heavy I would do it,” he said. “[But] the day I weigh 200 pounds is the day I’m inside a coffin.” (Caple, Jim. Ichiro Has Mastered the Short Game. ESPN.com)

2. The Mariners’ rightfield glowing praise for the city of Cleveland: “To tell the truth, I’m not excited to go to Cleveland, but we have to. If I ever saw myself saying I’m excited going to Cleveland, I’d punch myself in the face, because I’m lying.” (Stone, Larry. Mariners Notebook. Seattle Times; June 11, 2007)

1. Ichiro on what he looks for in a lady: “Chicks who dig home runs aren’t the ones who appeal to me. I think there’s sexiness in infield hits because they require technique. I’d rather impress the chicks with my technique than with my brute strength. Then, every now and then, just to show I can do that, too, I might flirt a little by hitting one out.” (Lefton, Brad. Suzuki on a First-Name Basis With Records. New York Times; August 22, 2009)

Ichiro Suzuki. Batting Champion, All-Star, Hall-of-Famer…the next Descartes?

Sunday Night Spread: A Look at the Day Around Major League Baseball

PuffDragonAre you too lazy to read an entire game recap? Do you find yourself looking for something more than a boxscore, but less than a novel? Or are you just tired of waiting until the morning’s paper to find out that your favorite team lost yet again? If you said yes to any of the above, then you’ve come to the right place! Viva la Vidro presents its first (and possibly last, depending on the author’s motivation level) edition of the Sunday Night Spread, a look at each game in the majors in 50 words or less. Dig in!

Cleveland 3 Minnesota 1: David Huff the Magic Dragon becomes the major’s least deserving 9-game winner after allowing 1 run in 7 innings against the Twinkies to lower his Carlos Silva-esque ERA to 6.23. Somewhere off in the distance, Matt Cain’s 2007 and 2008 seasons are weeping.

Toronto 14 New York Yankees 8: Canada’s dominance over America continues as the Jays pound out 15 hits and capitalize on four Yankee errors (undoubtedly all by Jeter) to win by a touchdown (extra-point was wide right). The real loser was Randy Ruiz’s face; not a good time to play baseball if you have a head.

New York Mets 4 Chicago Cubs 2: Two teams that were supposed to be good but actually suck squared off in a game that no one cared about. The Mets got four RBIs from Daniel Murphy, currently owned in 1.7% of fantasy baseball leagues, after tonight.

Cincinnati 4 Atlanta 2: The Braves continue to fade faster than Lindsay Lohan’s career as Cincinnati takes the lead on a hit-by-pitch of the opposing pitcher, go figure. Drew Stubbs falls a double short of the cycle, but if no one outside of Ohio notices, did it really happen?

jeremy%20guthrieBaltimore 7 Texas 0: Baseball’s best pitching Mormon, Jeremy Guthrie, six-hits the potent Rangers’ offense over 7 innings as the ghost of Brigham Young cheers him on from behind home plate. Texas falls 3 back in the AL Wild Card chase.

Washington 5 Florida 4: The Nationals would be the best team in baseball if they could reverse their record (47-90), but that’s not allowed till after Labor Day, so Washington had to settle for a walk-off dinger from Ryan Zimmerman.

Pittsburgh 6 St. Louis 5: Pujols homers (again), but Ryan Franklin and his goatee blow the save in the 9th against the suddenly scorching Pirates (currently riding a one-game winning streak). See, GM Neal Huntington knew what he was doing all along (what, why’s everyone laughing?)

Detroit 5 Tampa Bay 3: 40-year-old Russ Springer celebrates receiving his first social security check by coughing up a go-ahead grand slam to Brandon Inge in the 9th. The good news is he still gets 15% off at the Old Country Buffet.

Boston 6 Chicago White Sox 1: In yet another lesson why you don’t mix colors with whites, the Red Sox topped their pseudo-rival White Sox behind 7 shutout innings from Jon Lester in a game that had everyone seeing pink by the end. Use Oxi Clean, or just don’t wash ’em at all.

Milwaukee 2 San Francisco 1: America’s fattest favorite vegan came through with a game-winning homerun in the 12th and then proceeded to eat 27 pounds of Rice-A-Roni in mock tribute to San Fransisco’s favorite treat. This could get ugly the next time these two teams meet, likely in the World Series.

Houston 4 Philadelphia 3: The Phillies lose and Brad Lidge isn’t to blame? Cole Hamels gave up 4 runs in 6 innings, and Miguel Tejada went 4-4 for the Astros after a hearty portion of “b-vitamins” with his breakfast.

94928-004-72912736L.A. Angels 7 Kansas City 2: Former Mariners Yuniesky Betancourt and Willy Bloomquist each went 1-4, but it just wasn’t enough as the mighty Halos rode 5 innings of 10-hit ball from Joe Saunders to their 81st win.

Colorado 13 Arizona 5: The humidifier seems to be broke again in Colorado, as the Rockies and Diamondbacks combined for 8 HRs, three of which came from .198 hitter Chris Young. We can build on this Diamondback fans!

Oakland 5 Seattle 2: Fister’s got a blister, but besides that fun rhyme the M’s didn’t enjoy themselves much in Oakland, as the A’s used a 7th inning grand slam from Scott Hairston to cruise to a win. Ichiro collects career hit 2,000 in America, next stop: the moon?

San Diego 4 L.A. Dodgers 3: The freeway series? The smog series? The dear God our state is going to get annexed from the union series? The Padres are almost as bad as California’s economy, but they gutted out a win against division foe L.A. as Adrian Gonzalez hits his 35th HR. The Dodger’s lead is down to 3.5 games in the NL West.

Mariners’ Monthly Roundup: August “Just Kind Of Hanging Around” Edition

King Felix showed no signs of slowing down in August.

King Felix showed no signs of slowing down in August. Is a Cy Young next?

Record: 15-14 (68-64 overall)

AL West Standings: L.A. (78-52); Texas 6 GB; Seattle 11 GB; Oakland 20.5 GB 

Top Hitter: Jose Lopez had a solid month of production at the dish (.258-6 HR-22 RBIs-10 2B) and Mike Sweeney took advantage of increased playing time (.333-2 HR-9 RBI-5 2B) but the best hitter on the team continues to be Mr. Consistency, Ichiro Suzuki. Despite missing 7 games with a calf injury, Ichiro hit his usual .340 with 2 HRs and 10 RBIs, in addition to swiping 3 bags and scoring 16 runs. Seattle’s offense went into a major funk without him at the top of the lineup and they were glad to welcome him back to the field last night. Suzuki is just 14 hits away from becoming the first player in major league history with 9 straight 200+ hit seasons and is also just 9 hits away from 2,000 in his MLB career. Yeah, he’s that good.

Top Pitcher(s): Felix Hernandez continued his breakout season with a sterling August that put him good position to make a run at the AL Cy Young Award (his teammates didn’t help the cause though, getting 1-hit by Zack Grienke). The flame-throwing right hander went 2-1 in the month with 2.70 ERA and 40 Ks in 40 innings. On the season, the 23-year-old Hernandez is 13-5 with a 2.77 ERA and 179 Ks in 185 innings, a vast improvement in all statistical areas from last year. Felix starts have become must-see TV, and Seattle has to begin worrying about whether he will stick around when he becomes a free-agent in two years. Translation: enjoy him while you can.

Langerhans doesn't go deep much, but when he does, game over.

Langerhans doesn't go deep often, but when he does...game over.

Biggest Surprise: Despite the fact that he’s hitting .211 on the season, Ryan Langerhans has provided Mariners’ fans with plenty of excitement. The soft-hitting lefty has drilled only 3 HRs on the season, but 2 of them are of the walk-off variety and both came in August (7th and 25th). An amazing 10-percent of his hits this season have been walk-off HRs, which becomes much less amazing when you consider Langerhans only has 20 hits on the year. At least he’s making them count.

Biggest Disappointment: Erik Bedard was shut down for the season on August 20th, adding further disappointment to his short tenure in Seattle. Bedard wasn’t bad when he pitched (5-3, 2.82 ERA in ’09) but rarely went deep into ballgames and struggled with injuries both seasons. With the continued growth of the players the M’s sent to Baltimore to acquire Bedard (Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, George Sherrill) this might go down as one of the worst trades in recent history (though not quite as bad as the Bartolo Colon for Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips and Cliff Lee deal).

Griffey Watch: Junior had his best month of the season in August, hitting  .246 with 4 HRs and 13 RBIs, which was highlighted by a pinch-hit walk-off single against the Chicago White Sox in the 14th inning of a thrilling 1-0 Seattle win. Griffey missed a couple of games at the end of the month with sore knees but is expected back in the lineup soon, and though Seattle is out of contention, should give fans a reason to attend M’s games during the last 5 weeks of the year. This may be your last chance to see one of the greatest ball players of all-time (currently sitting on 625 career HRs), so soak in his every at-bat, players like Griffey come along once in a generation.

Rookie Doug Fister has been a welcome addition to the M's staff.

Rookie Doug Fister has been a welcome addition to the M's.

Injuries: Endy Chavez (torn ACL–out for year); Russell Branyan (herniated disk in back–mid-September return, possibly out for season); Adrian Beltre (bruised testicle–should return September 1); Ichiro Suzuki (tight left calf–should return September 1); Carlos Silva (rotater cuff–set to begin rehab assignment, unfortunately); Erik Bedard (shoulder surgery–out for season).

Welcome Aboard: Doug Fister was called up from Triple-A Tacoma and did nothing but impress in his 5 August outings, going 1-1 with a 3.42 ERA and 18 Ks against 7 BBs. The 25-year-old is making a strong case to be a part of the Mariners rotation in 2010, and twirled a gem against the Angels last night (7.1 innings, 5 hits, 1 R). Fister takes a pitch-to-contact approach on the mound (2 walks or less in 4 of his 5 starts), relying on the M’s defense and the spacious confines of Safeco Field to keep hitters in check. So far, it’s worked.

September Schedule: 2 vs. LA; 4 @ Oakland; 4 @ LA; 3 @ Texas; 3 vs. Chicago; 3 vs. NYY; 2 @ TB; 4 @ Toronto; 2 vs. Oakland

Overall Grade: (B) The Mariners continue to hang around on the outskirts of the playoff picture and finished August with a winning record (15-14). Sure they aren’t the best team in the league, but this is a far cry from last year, and they are building some excitement towards the 2010 season. September should be a fun month, with expanded rosters giving fans a look at M’s of the future.