Mariners Monthly Roundup: July “From Bad to Worse” Edition.

Michael Saunders is one of the few sources of hope in a dismal season.

Record: 6-22 (Overall 39-66)     

A.L. West Standings: Texas, Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle     

Top Hitter: With virtually the whole team slumping in the month it wasn’t difficult for second-year outfielder Michael Saunders to walk away as the best hitter in July. The 23-year-old began to show the potential that made him one of the Mariners most highly regarded prospects, hitting .279 with one HR and 6 RBI’s in the month. More importantly, Saunders flashed improved plate discipline with a 16/11 strikeout-to-walk ratio, leading to a .380 OBP. He’s shown himself to be an above-average defensive player and if he can continue to develop as a hitter, Saunders should be a major part of Seattle’s rebuilding effort moving forward.     

Top Pitcher: Felix Hernandez picked up right where Cliff Lee left off in June, although thanks to an anemic Mariners’ offense, the King only won a single game in July despite a 2.54 ERA and 33 strikeouts against only 9 walks. Besides Erik Bedard Luke French Ryan Rowland-Smith Justin Vargas, Felix is the only sure thing on the Mariners’ staff right now, and the team will have plenty of holes to fill heading into 2010. This team would be completely unwatchable if not for the presence of King Felix.  

Biggest Surprise: Left for dead with the acquisitions of Justin Smoak and Russell Branyan, Casey Kotchman finally decided it was time to play like a big leaguer, hitting .318 with 4 HR’s and 10 RBI’s in the month. With Smoak currently in Triple-A and Branyan manning DH duties, Kotchman should see some significant playing time moving forward. He’s not part of the team’s future, but it would be nice to see him get a chance to play for another team–preferably in the division.    

Biggest Disappointment: Every player on the team not named Felix Hernandez. Also, I wish that Don Wakamatsu and Chone Figgins’ fight had escalated in a full-blown dugout brawl with Rob Johnson’s leg getting broken in the scrum. It’s little things like that which help keep interest up in a long season. And it’s been a loooooooooong season…   

Injuries: Erik Bedard (out for season–hypochondria); Milton Bradley (15-day DL–patellar tendonitis); Shawn Kelley (15-day DL–elbow inflammation); Ryan-Rowland Smith (15-day DL–overall awfulness–set to meet with Men at Work on Monday).   

Lingering Questions: Will the Mariners finish with the worst record in baseball? Will Ichiro be the only Mariner to finish the season hitting over .250? How long before the pitchers and hitters engage in a bloody civil war? Why do I keep watching if they bring me nothing but pain? Can Adam Moore possibly be worse than Rob Johnson? Should fans start showing up at the games with bags on their heads? 

August Schedule: 1 @ Minnesota; 3 vs. Texas; 3 vs. Kansas City; 3 vs. Oakland; 3 @ Cleveland; 3 @ Baltimore; 3 @ New York; 3 @ Boston; 3 vs. Minnesota; 2 vs. Los Angeles.     

Overall Grade: (F) I’m out of words to describe the abomination that is the Mariners, so this picture will have to do.

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Ken Griffey Jr. is the Most Important Player in Baseball. Here’s Why.

At 40-years-old, Ken Griffey Jr. is primed for the most important season of his career.

Ken Griffey Jr. is no longer “the Kid”. He won’t be climbing walls and stealing would-be home runs or depositing 40+ souvenirs into the outfield stands in 2010. Junior will huff and puff trying to score from second on a single, struggle to catch up with above-average fastballs and will likely spend more time on the bench than he does on the field. Yet, despite all the shortcomings of his 40-year-old body, Ken Griffey Jr. has never meant more to the Seattle Mariners or the sport of baseball than he will in 2010.

The Mariners enter the season as a threat to win the AL West and a dark horse (though that term is forever soiled by the latest Nickleback album) to make a deep postseason run. The roster has been completely overhauled by new GM Jack Zduriencik and the additions of Cliff Lee, Chone Figgins and Milton Bradley give Seattle an even more talented roster than the one that went 85-77 last year. However, no offseason move was more important to the Mariners and their fans than bringing back Griffey for the 2010 season.

Junior completely transformed the Mariners last year, turning a dugout that looked like a crypt into somewhere more fun than an episode of MXC. For the first time in years Seattle players looked like they were having fun in 2009 (heck even Ichiro smiled, and he was diagnosed with a rare condition that makes it extremely painful to show any emotion) and it’s impossible to overstate how important chemistry was to the Mariners’ success last season.

Ken Griffey Jr. makes me want to be a better man.

Griffey will once again be counted on as the unquestioned leader of the Mariners in 2010, and will have his work cut out for him with the addition of the mercurial Bradley, a talented but troubled player who needs to perform at a high level if Seattle is to succeed in a competitive AL West. If the Mariners do manage to win their division (because the Wild Card will come out of the AL East), Junior is one of just a handful of players on the team with any prior postseason experience and the only remaining link to the Mariners’ magical 1995 season.

Griffey is part player, part coach and part class clown—and Seattle needs him to fulfill all three roles if the team hopes to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2001. Junior is integral to the success or failure of the Mariners in 2010, but he is even more important as a symbol of hope for the still tarnished sport of baseball.

Though Major League Baseball would like to continue to sweep the issue of steroids under the carpet, Mark McGwire’s return to the game has once again brought the taboo topic to the forefront of fans’ minds. Nearly every prolific home run hitter from the last two decades (Barry Bonds, McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Manny Ramirez, etc.) has been linked in some way to steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs…but not Ken Griffey Jr.

He stands above the fray as a man who played the game of baseball the right way, and by not aging gracefully, Griffey in fact aged gracefully. Junior’s head didn’t grow while he was in his 30’s and he peaked when he was 28 or 29, not 38 or 39 (cough Barry Bonds cough). Ken Griffey Jr. is the lone source of light in the darkness that envelops the steroids era and has shown other players and the young kids that look up to him that success can be found without the help of a needle. Griffey took the responsibility of being a role model seriously, and if there is anything that baseball can salvage from the past twenty years, it’s thanks to Junior.

Hopefully baseball fans give Griffey the farewell he deserves this season. He’s done more for the game than we may ever know.

Completing the Puzzle: Who Do the Mariners Need to Target in Free Agency?

Jason Bay has ties to the Pacific Northwest, but is he a good fit for the Seattle Mariners?

Though the Mariners signing of free-agent third baseman Chone Figgins  shows that they are serious about competing for the division, baseball’s Winter Meetings have come and gone and the team still has plenty of holes left to fill if they want to have a realistic shot at winning the AL West.

Texas has been busy all week, signing free-agent Rich Harden and acquiring Chris Ray and Mike Lowell (still pending) through trades, turning up the heat on Seattle to keep pace.

The Oakland Athletics were one of the most improved teams in all of baseball during last season’s second half, and figure to be even better in 2010 with all the experience their young players gained down the stretch.

Los Angeles lost Figgins and may be unable to resign their ace Jon Lackey, but the Angels are still dangerous after winning the division by 10 games last year despite battling injuries to key players the entire season.

All four teams in the AL West have a legitimate shot at winning the division next year, with no clear front-runner at this point in the offseason; what will it take for the Mariners to come out on top in 2010?

The addition of Figgins fills Seattle’s need for a third-baseman, but the Mariners still need help at first-base, catcher, left-field, designated hitter and in their rotation (more on this in a later post). Statistically one of the worst offensive teams in the American League last season, Seattle’s superb pitching staff carried the team all year, leading the AL with a 3.87 team ERA. While the pitching will likely regress a bit next year due to the losses of Erik Bedard and Jarrod Washburn, it’s clear that the Mariners main focus this offseason needs to be on adding offensive firepower; this may prove to be an expensive proposition with four positions yet to be filled.

After Endy Chavez’s season-ending injury the Mariners got virtually no production out of leftfield, with the trio of Bill Hall, Michael Saunders and Ryan Langerhans performing well below replacement level. Jason Bay is imminently available after being unable to come to terms with the Red Sox and has strong ties to the Pacific Northwest, but is seeking a contract in the range of 4-5 years and $60+ million dollars, a deal that would leave the Mariners out of cash and still needing a first baseman, catcher and right-handed DH. Additionally, there are concerns about whether a one-dimensional player like Bay, who hits for power but provides little else, would be worth a long-term investment in a park like Safeco Field that caters towards pitching.

Free-agent outfielder Matt Holliday offers more versatility than Bay but would need a similarly hand-cuffing contract to come aboard (he is represented by Scott Boras after all). A more budget friendly option is former Seattle Mariner Mike Cameron, who despite turning 36 last season, is still a plus defender in the outfield who offers good power and patience at the plate. The Mariners could probably ink Cameron to a one-year deal, limiting the risk if he performs poorly, which would also give Saunders another year to develop in Triple-A Tacoma. Other players to consider in left-field include Randy Winn, Jonny Gomes or Josh Willingham.

A breakout performer last year, Seattle would be happy to bring Branyan back at first base in 2010.

The Mariners got surprising production out of first base last season, with Russell Branyan taking advantage of his first chance to play full-time by slugging 31 HR’s and driving in 76 runs. The early indications seem to suggest that Seattle plans on bringing Branyan back for at least one more year, although he would probably be due a substantial raise over the $1.4 million dollars he earned in 2009. Branyan stated all season long that he owed it to the Mariners to resign with the club because they were the only team willing to give him a full-time role, but it remains to be seen whether that will hold true if another team offers him a lucrative deal.

If Seattle loses Branyan to another team they could replace him internally with Mike Carp, who performed admirably in a short trial last season (.315 in 54 AB’s), or they could pursue free-agent Nick Johnson. Though injury prone, the 31-year-old Johnson has one of the best batting eyes in the game (.426 OBP in 2009) and is a solid defensive first baseman who could fit comfortably into the Mariner’s lineup as their number three hitter. There has also been some speculation that Seattle would consider shifting second baseman Jose Lopez (a defensive liability up the middle) to first base and moving Matt Tuiasosopo (a third baseman in the minors) to second, a possibility now that the hot corner has been filled by Figgins.

Catcher was another gaping hole for the Mariners in 2009, with a disappointing season from Kenji Johjima and young catchers Rob Johnson and Adam Moore struggling to adjust to big league pitching. With Johjima back in Japan, the battle for starting catcher in 2010 will boil down to Johnson and Moore unless the Mariners try to acquire a catcher via free agency or trade. Johnson received praise from the pitching staff for his game-calling abilities but he hit only .213 with 2 HR’s and 27 RBI’s. Moore saw limited action with the Mariners, spending the majority of the season in the minor leagues, hitting a combined .287-13 HR’s-56 RBI’s between Double and Triple-A. S

eattle has been mentioned as a possible destination for free-agent catcher Miguel Olivo, a defensively-challenged backstop who hit 23 HR’s in only 390 AB’s last season. While Olivo has never shown the ability to draw a walk, he has consistently produced good power numbers and is the best player available in a very thin catching market. If the M’s could sign him to an incetive-laden one-year deal, Olivo is probably a worthwhile gamble; if he wants a multi-year deal Seattle is better off allowing Johnson and Moore to develop in the majors.

Could the former Mariner killer become a killer Mariner?

Designated hitter may have been the most popular position for Seattle in 2009, with clubhouse favorites Mike Sweeney and Ken Griffey Jr. manning the post, but it certainly wasn’t the most productive. Griffey’s back and figures to get the majority of at-bats against right-handed pitching; the Mariners hope he can rebound from a sub par return to the Emerald City last year (.214-19 HR’s-57 RBI’s). Seattle needs to find a player who hits left-handed pitching well to platoon with Griffey, but this year’s free agent crop is very thin in terms of quality hitters.

The M’s might have to take a flier on someone coming off an injury or a bad season. Some possible candidates include Xavier Nady, Olivo, Carlos Delgado or even longtime thorn-in-the-side Vladimir Guerrero. While Guerrero’s power has dipped in recent years, he would still be a significant upgrade over Sweeney as a part-time DH, and could become a solid run producer with Ichiro and Figgins at the top of the lineup.

As of today there are still 266 free agents available for the Mariners to sign, so despite the team’s need to fill multiple holes in their lineup, there’s no need to panic–yet. The Rangers’ lastest moves have upped the ante, but Jack Zduriencik has shown himself to be a very capable baseball man, and will work tirelessly to make Seattle a frontrunner for the 2010 AL West title.

The Mariners certainly have issues to address, but the pieces to build a title contender are out there; now it’s just up to the Mariners and their front office to fit them all together.

Mariners Draw First Blood in Free Agency: Seattle Close to Signing Chone Figgins

The Mariners made the off-season's first big splash with the signing of Figgins to fill their void at third.

Jack Zdrunciek wasted no time in letting Seattle fans know his intentions for the 2010 season—the Mariners are gunning for an A.L. West title. With the calendar turning to December and baseball’s annual winter meetings looming, the M’s are rumored to be in the final stages of a deal that would bring the 31-year-old Chone Figgins to Seattle to serve as the team’s third baseman for the next four seasons. Though terms of the deal haven’t been finalized, it is estimated that Figgins would receive around $9 million a year through 2013, with a potential option for the 2014 season. Seattle struggled all season at third base, with poor offensive production from an injury-riddled Adrian Beltre and his replacement Jack Hannahan, and the position was clearly a focus of Zdrunciek heading into the offseason.

Figgins’ signing is a true double-edged sword for the Mariners. Not only does Seattle add a talented and versatile veteran to their roster, but in doing so they also rob division foe Los Angeles of one of their most consistent and popular players. Figgins has spent his entire eight-year career with the Angels, serving as a super utility man before settling in at the hot corner, and is coming off his most productive season yet. The pint-size sparkplug was one of the game’s best leadoff batters in 2009, hitting .298 with 42 stolen bases and 114 runs scored. An extremely patient batsman, Figgins led the American League with 101 walks and will provide the Mariners with a vast upgrade over last year’s two-hole hitters (.294 OBP vs Figgins .395). While he will be replacing a Gold Glove caliber player in Beltre, Figgins’ good range and strong arm at third certainly won’t conjure up any images of Russ Davis; he’s a solid player across the board.  

Figgins will combine with Ichiro to form a dynamic duo at the top of the Mariners' order.

The Mariners were second to last in the AL in OBP, batting average, OPS and runs scored in 2009 and the arrival of Figgins should help to address those glaring needs. Though Figgins spent all of last season leading off it’s unlikely that he will usurp Ichiro at the top of the order. Instead, manager Don Wakamatsu will probably bat him directly behind Suzuki, giving Seattle one of the best 1-2 punches in the game (the two combined for 408 hits, 202 runs and 68 stolen bases last year). Now that the Mariners are set at the top of the order, the rest of the offseason will be spent looking for someone to drive in Suzuki and Figgins (Russell Branyan? Matt Holliday? Jason Bay?) and starting pitching to back up Felix Hernandez (Erik Bedard? Jarrod Washburn? Josh Johnson?). Zdrunciek and Co. are just getting started in their preparation for 2010, but this signing is certainly a strong start for Seattle.

From the outset this looks like a major coup for the Mariners, but the final grade of this signing hinges on two major factors: Figgins productivity at the end of the contract and what the Angels are able to get out of the 18th pick in next year’s draft (which they receive as compensation from the M’s). In the mean time Seattle fans should enjoy this deal as it shows the front office’s commitment to creating a competitive ballclub. Figgins isn’t the final piece of the puzzle, but he will play a major role in helping the Mariners challenge for a division title and a chance to return to the postseason for the first time since 2001.

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?

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.