A Love Story Renewed: Russell Branyan Returns to the Mariners.

The Brawny Paper Towel Man is hoping to bring some power to an anemic lineup.

Casey Kotchman is bad, real bad. Michael Jackson.  

Now Mariners’ fans are mad, real mad. Joe Jackson.  

Seattle’s 2010 first basemen (Casey Kotchman, Mike “Magic” Carp–who will be dead weight until he learns an attack other than splash, Mike Sweeney, Matt Tuisiasopo, Ryan Langerhans, David Segui, etc.) have combined to be worse than Birdemic at the plate on a team that can ill afford to sacrifice any offense.  

So the Mariners admitted the error of their ways and gave their ex-first baseman a call. That must have been awkward:  

“Oh hey Russell, this is the Mariners. You know how we told you we didn’t want you back and that we had found someone better? Well, it turns out we were wrong, and when you left, we realized how much we needed you. So if you can ever forgive us, we need you back in our lives, and more importantly, back in the middle of our order. Whataya say?”  

Of course all of Branyan’s friends told him it was a mistake to get back with the Mariners (they don’t treat you well, they never buy you nice things, there’s no protection in the lineup, etc.) but he didn’t have much of a choice other than retiring or faking a back injury (no one’s accusing you of that Mike Sweeney). 

The move doesn’t make much sense because the Mariners are so far out of contention that ESPN doesn’t even list them in the AL West standings, but they didn’t give up anyone noteworthy (two prospects who I am too lazy to look up), and it never hurts to have someone in your lineup who can hit a ball over the wall…in fair territory. There’s not much rhyme or reason to it, but then again, this whole season hasn’t had much rhyme or reason.

Welcome back Russell. I never stopped loving you. Now go hit some home runs.

Must Be Something in the Water: While Seattle’s Season Circles the Drain, Former Mariners Find Success in New Environments.

Carlos Silva was an unmitigated disaster in Seattle. In Chicago, the hefty sinker-baller is a star.

If you had told me before the 2010 season began that by the middle of June the Mariners would be 10 games out in the division and Carlos Silva would be a top contender for the NL Cy Young award, I would have thought you were crazier than Michael Lohan and Amy Winehouse –combined. 

Unfortunately, you would have been right. 

The Mariners have been awful in 2010, just awful. Despite the fact that there are only four teams in the AL West the Mariners find themselves sitting 5th in the division. They’re that bad. But, while Seattle battles for the number one overall pick in the 2011 draft, former Mariners are finding success in new places. Here’s a few key examples:

Carlos Silva (Chicago Cubs): After signing a four-year, $48 million dollar contract with the Mariners before the 2008 season, Carlos Silva set out to create a show called “Man vs. Food” in which he took on eating challenges throughout the country, only to discover such a program already existed. Undeterred, Silva devoured record amounts of food any chance he was afforded in the hope that one day, he too would have a shot at fame on the Food Network. Unfortunately, his increased focus on eating came at the expense of his pitching, and Silva went 5-18 in his two years with the Mariners before the team traded him to the Cubs for Milton Bradley. Since moving to the National League, Silva has rediscovered his mojo, posting an 8-2 record and 3.01 ERA. He returns to Seattle when the Cubs face off against the Mariners next week and fans are encouraged to throw hamburgers and hotdogs in Silva’s direction. It’s only fair. 

Adrian Beltre (Boston Red Sox): Adrian Beltre joined the Mariners in 2005 after hitting a career-high 48 home runs for the Dodgers the year before (he finished 2nd in MVP voting). In his five seasons with the M’s, Beltre averaged just over 20 home runs per year and never posted a batting average above .276. Beltre wasn’t a total bust because he played through injuries and was one of the best defensive third baseman in baseball, but he certainly didn’t live up to the bloated contract Bill Bavasi handed him. Now, healthy and in a new environment, Beltre is once again a force at the plate, hitting .338 with 10 HR’s and 48 RBI’s in his first 66 games with the Boston Red Sox. It’s not surprising, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less. 

Since leaving Seattle, Adrian Beltre has regained the form that made him an MVP candidate.

Mike Morse (Washington Nationals): Mike Morse might not be as well-known as some of the other names on this list (he had just 300 AB’s with the Mariners between 2005-08) his ability to hit the ball away from the other team’s defense would be a welcome addition to one of the major’s worst offenses. Morse struggled with injuries during his tenure in Seattle and was traded away last season for Ryan Langerhans (who, as you would suspect, is playing sparsely because of injuries). Finally getting some playing time with Washington, the 28-year-old Morse is hitting .395 with 2 HR’s and 5 RBI’s in 38 AB’s (a small sample size I realize, but he is a .303 career hitter). In Seattle’s defense, Morse looks like a dirtbag, so there’s that. Yeah. 

R.A. Dickey (New York Mets): The knuckle-balling Dickey was part of the Mariners’ historically bad 2008 campaign (61-101)–a year in which he went 5-8 with a 5.21 ERA. Apparently whatever his knuckleball was supposed to do, it didn’t, because Dickey was battered around all season. Flash forward to 2010 and Dickey is pitching like an ace for the New York Mets. Through his first six starts of the year Dickey is 5-0 with a 2.82 ERA  (31 strikeouts in 37 innings) and his knuckleball is dancing like Jessica Alba in Honey. I think the Mariners need to defect to the National League. The NL makes everyone look good. Even R.A. Dickey.

Rafael Soriano (Tampa Bay Rays): Despite posting a 2.25 ERA and striking out more than a batter per inning in 2006, Bill Bavasi traded Rafael Soriano to the Braves for the illustrious Horacio Ramirez (who won 8 games in 2007 despite posting a 7.16 ERA and 1.84 WHIP). Soriano was an outstanding relief pitcher for the Braves and has been even better since joining the Rays in 2010 where he is 16 for 16 in save opportunities with a 1.52 ERA. Who could have seen that coming? Oh wait, everyone but Bill Bavasi. I hate that man…I really do.

Stephen Strasburg Nothing Short of Scintillating in Major League Debut.

Strasburg dazzled America in his MLB debut.

Finally there’s something worth watching in Washington besides the Baltimore Orioles C-Span.   

In one of the most anticipated debuts in major league history, Nationals’ rookie pitcher Stephen Strasburg dominated the hapless Pittsburgh Pirates in route to a 5-2 Washington win.   

The 21-year-old flamethrower struck out 14 Pirates in seven innings (the second most ever in a major league debut) including the last seven batters he faced. Strasburg allowed two runs on four hits, and perhaps most impressive, didn’t walk a single batter.   

Strasburg kept the Pirates guessing all night with a combination of high 90’s fastballs and knee buckling curveballs, showing that he could shutdown major league lineups (albeit, a bad one) as easily as the minor league lineups he subdued during his short Double and Triple-A stints.   

Even with their new pitching stud in tow the Nationals won’t likely be able to contend in a competitive NL East. Still, Strasburg brings a spark to a franchise that has been a punching bag since moving to Washington from Montreal in 2005. With young players like Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond entrenched in the major league lineup, and the recent selection of super prospect Bryce Harper, the Nationals are building a core of players that will allow them to contend for a division title in the next 3-4 years.  

It might just be one start, but Strasburg’s debut could indicate a changing of the guard in the NL East, and his electrifying presence brings hope to a franchise and city that are badly in need.  

And to think, the Mariners could have drafted Strasburg if they had just lost one more game in 2007 (they finished with 101 losses, the Nationals had 102). Of course, when you’ve got Ian Snell and Ryan Rowland-Smith, would the team even have room for him in the starting rotation?  

Slaps forehead…

Jim Joyce’s Apology Too Little, Too Late to Preserve History.

In the span of 24 hours, Jim Joyce went from public enemy number one in Detroit, to a tragic figure whose only fault was being human. The whole situation showed the power of one player’s grace and convinced the country that goodwill still exists in the heart of man and that world peace is still within our grasp. Armando Galarraga may have forgiven Jim Joyce, but did America let the now infamous umpire get off too easy?

There are few words (abominable, appalling, atrocious?) to describe how inexplicably bad Jim Joyce’s call was on Jason Donald’s now infamous “single”. It wasn’t a judgment call and it wasn’t a bang-bang play–it was as clear as Pam’s face after her Proactive regimen. For an umpire who was recently voted by players as the game’s best, Joyce’s decision to call Donald safe and cost Galarraga a shot at history is inexcusable. The fact that he was too proud or too ignorant to consult with the rest of the umpiring crew to discuss whether the correct call was made is ever more damning.

But, but, Joyce apologized didn’t he? Shouldn’t we forgive someone who was so broken up about making a mistake that they teared up and didn’t even have the strength to take a post-game shower?

Maybe.

We can forgive Jim Joyce the human, but not Jim Joyce the umpire. Did he really have any choice but to apologize after watching a replay of his blunder? I’m not saying that Joyce wasn’t genuinely sorry, but his mea culpa was as much to save face as it was to convey his regret to Galarraga. While sorry may occasionally resolve a problem or right a wrong, Joyce’s empty apology didn’t give Galarraga the perfect game he had worked so hard to earn.

In the entire history of baseball  there have only been 20 perfect games–and Armando Galarraga was one out away from joining one of the sport’s most exclusive fraternities (though not quite as exclusive as The Skulls). Galarraga is an average major league pitcher (4.49 career ERA) who on one special day had everything going his way, including a spectacular catch from center fielder Austin Jackson in the 9th that seemingly was the Indians’ last shot.

But, instead of the players deciding the game’s final outcome, it was umpire Jim Joyce who ended Galarraga’s bid for perfection.

And for that, I can never forgive him…

My Heart Will Go On: Ken Griffey Jr. Retires from Baseball.

I wish I had something profound to say about Ken Griffey Jr.’s career, I really do…but I’m not ready to say goodbye.

To me Griffey will always be “the Kid”–but time doesn’t play favorites. As the season progressed, it became increasingly clear that Junior was no longer capable of performing in the Major Leagues, and the ever classy slugger humbly bowed out.

There’s no fountain of youth for Griffey; he can’t find his back to Neverland and rediscover the talent that made him one of the greatest baseball players of all-time. The Kid is all grown up and the fans that clung to his every picture perfect swing are in the process of going through Griffey’s midlife crisis for him.

It might seem silly to some that fans would get so upset about a player retiring, but Ken Griffey Jr. wasn’t just a baseball player, he was our baseball player. Griffey put Seattle baseball on the map and is the reason that Safeco Field was built and baseball still exists in the Emerald City. He brought hope to a long-suffering franchise and provided Seattle fans with a lifetime full of highlights each time he took the field. There was nothing on the baseball diamond that Ken Griffey Jr. couldn’t do, and we were lucky to have him for as long as we did.

In a perfect world Griffey would have left after last season, with the aging superstar being carried off the field on the shoulders of his teammates as the lasting image of stellar career. Of course, in a perfect world, one of the game’s greats wouldn’t have to walk away without a World Series ring and years of his prime playing days wouldn’t have been lost to countless injuries and ailments.

But it’s not a perfect world, not even for a perfect player, and there won’t be a storybook ending to Griffey’s career.

Thanks for everything you did for Seattle and for baseball Ken. We’ll never forget you…

Mariners Monthly Roundup: May “It’s Like Watching a Loved One Slowly Pass Away” Edition

Someone made Mike Sweeney mad and pitchers all over baseball are paying the price in a big way.

Record: 8-19  (Overall 19-31) 

AL West Standings: Oakland, Texas, Los Angeles………….Seattle 

Top Hitter: Ichiro has done his part all year to get the Mariners’ offense started but the team has been unable to cash in on the opportunities when he reaches base. Suzuki was as consistent as ever in May, hitting .336 with one HR, 7 RBI’s and 7 SB’s (but only 10 runs scored). At 36-years-old, Ichiro has shown no signs of slowing down, and gives M’s fans something to look forward to (a 10th straight 200-hit season) in an otherwise dismal year. 

Top Pitcher:  Hopefully Mariners’ fans enjoyed watching Cliff Lee pitch in May because it’s doubtful that the crafty lefty will be in Seattle much longer. In his first full month with the team Lee went 3-2 with a 3.82 ERA and 34 strikeouts against only 3 walks. Not only did the Mariners slow start eliminate them from playoff contention, but it also probably eliminated whatever small chance they had of resigning Lee after the season. Thanks Seattle. Thanks a lot.

Biggest Surprise: Mike “the Bat” Sweeney awoke from an early season slumber with a vengeance in May (.310-6 HR’s-14 RBI’s) providing fans with a bevy of souvenirs in the outfield stands and injecting some much-needed life into the Mariners’ lineup. Unfortunately, the Mariners’ best hitter is on the wrong side of 40, and had to miss numerous games due to a bad back (apparently it was “barking” at him. Is that an actual medical condition? Because I’ve never heard about it on Grey’s Anatomy. Is there a doctor in the building?) Can we catch a break? Just one, that’s all I ask for. Let Sweeney use steroids and not get caught, he’s just using them to help keep him on the field…I promise. 

Biggest Disappointment: Chone Figgins was supposed to be the spark plug that helped Seattle’s offense get to the next level and give the Mariners’ tremendous pitching staff some run support. Two months through the season Figgins is hitting just .211 and is on pace for over 150 strikeouts, which would be okay if he was going to hit 45 home runs but he is currently sitting on zero, so 45 seems a bit bullish…just a little.

Chone Figgins' poor play has been a major factor in the Mariners terrible start.

Griffey Watch: May 2010 is a month that Ken Griffey Jr. can’t forget soon enough. He made national headlines with “napgate”, was rumored to be on the verge of being released by Seattle and looked like a dinosaur at the plate (.122-0 HR’s-3 RBI’s). No matter how much he brings to the clubhouse, the Griffey experiment part 2 has been an unmitigated disaster. Let’s hope he hits one last home run and rides peacefully off into the sunset. 

Home Run Tracker: After hitting just nine home runs in the season’s first month the M’s exploded for 20 in May, which sadly, stills leave them last in all of baseball.

Happy Trails: Struggling relievers Kanekoa Teixeira and Jesus Colome were both designated for assignment after an implosion against the Angels that cost the Mariners a chance at a rare victory. I don’t think they’ll be sorely missed…or at all. 

Injuries: Erik Bedard (shoulder surgery, 60-day DL–return looking increasingly unlikely–shocker); Mark Lowe (lower back inflammation, 15-day DL); Josh Bard (strained calf, 15-day DL); Adam Moore (heel, 15-day DL); Jack Wilson (hamstring strain, 15-day DL–early June return). 

Lingering Questions: How many games does Seattle have to fall behind in the division before the team starts shopping Cliff Lee? Why didn’t someone get Griffey a coffee or 5-hour energy? Will King Felix regain the form that made him dominant in 2009? Did Carlos Silva really strike out 11 batters in a game? Will Chone Figgins really hit .200 all season? Is Don Wakamatsu on the hot seat? 

June Schedule: 3 vs. Minnesota, 3 vs. L.A., 4 @ Texas, 3 @ San Diego, 3 @ St. Louis, 3 vs. Cincinnati, 3 vs. Chicago (NL), 3 @Milwaukee, 2 @ New York 

Overall Grade: (F-)  The Mariners were simply awful in May. They can’t hit, they can’t field and they can’t run the bases. On the rare occasion when they do those things, and have a lead, the bullpen implodes and Seattle loses in the most painful ways possible. The Mariners are the most disappointing team in all of baseball and 2011 can’t get here soon enough. I’ve got to find something else to do this summer. Suggestions?