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Mariners have real pitching, real bad hitting

The team now has five starters with earned run averages under or about at 4.00. Contenders would die for this; the Mariners have merely died.

State to yourself the following: “Yankees, Rays, Twins, Rangers, Mariners.”

Ask yourself what the first four have and the latter does not.

The answer is that the fab four are the frontline faves to make the American League playoffs this season, which is something that might not happen for the Seattle franchise even if it won the remaining 42 games – and it wouldn't.

But the M's suddenly find themselves in a position that could make them the envy of virtually every team in the majors. It's because they boast a pitching rotation in which, despite the loss of Cliff Lee and the never-arrived status of oft-injured Erik Bedard, all five current starters have legit big-league earned-run averages:

Felix Hernandez, 2.62; Jason Vargas, 3.15; David Pauley, 3.31; Doug Fister, 3.92; and, having blanked Oriole batters in Tuesday’s (Aug. 17) 4-0 win, Luke French, 4.02.

By rights, any quartet formed from the above might have comprised the starting corps of the '71 Orioles, a team with four 20-game winners.

Instead, the cumulative win-loss record of the above five is 24-30. Given such ERA excellence, it might even seem inexplicable if the combined record instead were 30-24.

Obviously, though, the M’s slapstick lack of offense has been a circus-train-sized drag on the overall game. The club had put up 391 runs through Tuesday, making it last in the majors and only slightly better than the Auburn team in Williamsport for the Little League World Series.

How "last" is last? Second-to-last Pittsburgh had 408 through 119 games; Baltimore had 443 in 120. At the top, the Yankees had 624 runs through 119 games, or 5.244 per outing compared to Seattle’s 3.258. Possibly the extra two runs per game has something to do with New York’s 26-game lead over the Mariners in the win column?

The Tuesday win leaves Seattle actually above .500 for the month, improbable given the dismal 6-22 record of July. Most eyes from the remaining fan base are, of course, aimed toward spring training 2011, with a little remaining interest reserved for September call-ups from Tacoma, including the Dustin-and-Justin Show (Ackley and Smoak, the presumed position-player saviors of the franchise).

The other call-up of interest is rangy starter Michael Pineda, the eye-catching Dominican right-hander. The problem with Pineda: With starting pitching like Seattle suddenly has, which guy do you bench in order to let him play?

Fans of the four league-leading teams no doubt wish they had such a "problem" to contemplate.

Since 1994 Senior Lecturer Mike Henderson, a veteran writer and editor for The Times, Post-Intelligencer, (Everett) Herald, Seattle Weekly and Crosscut, has been a member of the faculty of the University of Washington Department of Communication. He considers himself to be the only journalist ever to interview actor Gene Hackman inside San Quentin prison while wearing a pair of Hackman's pants. He can be reached at mikh48@hotmail.com.


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