Among the oldest truisms in baseball: pitching and defense win games. Actually, this is something of a false-ism. Holding an opponent scoreless would accomplish nothing but the longest-ever extra-inning game in the absence of what really wins games: run-production. Seattle Mariners of the present and recent past would know this. Last season’s 61-101 edition ranked 13th (second to last) in the American League in offense.
Why bring it up with the M’s leading the division for much of the new season? Because, going into the opener of the three-game set with Tampa Bay Tuesday (April 21), Seattle was 11th in the A.L. in offense after losing two weekend events against Detroit. True, the main reason for the Sunday loss may have been pitching. Carlos Silva, who took the loss, still ain’t earning his keep, if indeed “keep” could be what you call the $48 million for his four-year deal with the M’s (that averages $370K per start for a guy who now is 4-17 as a Mariner). It also could’ve been defense (Yuniesky Betancourt botched consecutive plays for his first two errors of the season). But the M’s only had a pair of runs Sunday after getting blanked the day before, wasting an excellent Erik Bedard outing.
“Run-production” isn’t exactly the same as “offense.” A team can win without getting any hits, though it wouldn’t happen very often. Nor does the M’s early-season lack of offense necessarily condemn the club to another year like ’08. For one, division challengers Oakland and Los Angeles actually had, respectively, the worst and second-to-worst offensive stats in the league going into Tuesday play. The Texas Rangers hit relatively well but they’re weak enough in other ways to explain a 6-7 record.
Tuesday’s tiff presented the M’s with ample opportunity to pad their batting stats. The Rays started Andy Sonnanstine, whose earned-run average coming in (6.53) was even higher than the 6.35 Silva has managed during his 17 innings this season. Seattle didn’t exactly score with abandon but the 4-2 win was good enough to secure a 3-0 start for resurrected lefty Jarrod Washburn. The M’s had seven hits, including a three-for-three night by Mike Sweeney. The other former-all-star acquisition, Ken Griffey Jr., continues to have curio value but that’s about all. He has just seven hits in 38 at-bats, both his runs batted in coming from solo home runs.
The M’s once again were less than patient at the plate. Endy Chavez, so far the most productive of the team’s new-arrivals, had the only walk for Seattle. Jose Lopez, who put up some of the team’s best numbers on offense last year, is hitting just .200. Tuesday night he struck out swinging at one Lebron James couldn’t have reached.
Even the M’s supposed upgrade in defense comes at a cost in run-production. Minimal stat data exists after just 14 games but the M’s project to 92 errors this season, just seven fewer than last year. It’s great spectator sport seeing everyday center-fielder Franklin Gutierrez chase down fly balls for outs; it’s less fan-friendly to see him batting eighth or ninth in the line-up. Fans, in any case, aren’t anticipating an update of Terry Cashman’s ode to slugging center-fielders. Somehow “Willie, Mickey, The Duke and Franklin Gutierrez” seems about as likely as Carlos Silva winning this year’s Cy Young Award.
On the plus side, recalling the truism about pitching and defense, Silva has only made five fielding errors during his big-league career, possibly because most of the many balls hit off him make it well past the pitcher’s mound.
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