The report card on the mid-term McMariners

Too soon to fairly grade the new skipper, but the players have half the season behind them.
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The Seattle Mariners logo.

Too soon to fairly grade the new skipper, but the players have half the season behind them.

Two days into his tenure as Seattle Mariners skipper, John McLaren was making it awfully easy (with "awful" the key) for the region's abundant baseball perfessers to assess mid-term grades. The McM's had lost 3-2 Monday, July 2, to the Kansas City Royals and, the next night, 17-3, possibly to the Kansas City Chiefs. McLaren, of course, had inherited what fantasy-addled 14-year-olds and their equivalents everywhere believe to be the best job imaginable. This all happened when Mike Hargrove fired a stun gun at Mariner Nation by resigning on the first of July. Mild Mike said he simply didn't much want to work anymore. Many refused to believe this (our guess is that Dick Cheney ordered it) so they'll presumably be surprised soon when they learn that Softgrove has gone on to be a senior mattress-tester for Sleep Country: his dream job, so to speak. McLaren, 0-2 going into the team's 81st game on Wednesday, July 4, had earned a midseason grade of F-. Having lost two games by a combined score of 20-5, JohnnyMac would have needed a Fourth of July victory by that margin just to get back up to a C grade. The M's merely prevailed 4-0 on Independence Day, but we're giving McLaren a pass. Since many of the pupils he inherited performed well enough during the first half of what could be a playoff season, we'll postpone ultimate McJudgment and say the team at large deserves a solid B. At this juncture, Seattle is 46-35 (.568) and in second place in the American League West, 3.5 games behind the California Angels of Los Angeles in Anaheim. The Mariners from top to bottom:

  • Ichiro Suzuki, A+. As of July 4, he led the bigs in hits (duh) and was near the top in batting average and stolen bases. No ball that Mike Cameron, Ken Griffey Jr., or Dave Henderson would have reached and caught has eluded Ich in center field (or even parts of right and left). Injury-free, No. 51 seemingly hasn't been sick since the third grade. Errors through July 3? How 'bout none? In short: He's so good that it seems predestined the Mariners (they of the slip-away superstars) will lose him during the off-season.
  • J.J. Putz, A. The franchise has been blessed with excellent closers, but this guy might someday be remembered as the best. McLaren has vowed to limit Putz's exposure to ninth-inning save situations instead of working him during eighth frames. Let's hope.
  • Relief pitching, B+. With George Sherrill at left-handed set-up and several other over-achieving role-players from the bullpen, no wonder Putz finds himself in so many save situations. Last year's wunderkind could soon be back, though Mark Lowe m ight not be in high form.
  • Jose Vidro, B. They hired him to hit. He hits, with 82 through July 3. Fun with numbers: If Vidro had as many official at-bats as Ichiro, he'd be close to 100 hits at midseason. Gee, a slow DH with 200 hits for the year? Who's that remind us of?
  • Jose Lopez, B. Even if he never hits better than his current .270-something, it figures HoLo's power numbers will improve. He's on a course for 90 RBI this season, and the defense at second base has been excellent.
  • Bench, B. Here we mean the "B-Team": Willie Bloomquist, who suddenly has hitting to match his defensive versatility; Jamie Burke, perhaps the oldest best back-up catcher since Pat Borders; and Ben Broussard, who ought to be playing every day (see Richie Sexson, below).
  • Kenji Johjima, B. He's not the greatest defensive catcher, but he's said to call a good game and he's hit at .300 or better (occasionally for power) most of the season.
  • Starting pitching, B-. In an era when a 4-something earned-run average is nearly something Cooperstown-worthy, most M's starters have pitched well enough to keep the team in games until the later innings, especially when the offense gives them run support. Felix Hernandez has gone from looking like Cy Young to Old King Cole since coming back from injury. The once and perhaps future King Felix might be the key to whether the M's make it to the post-season.
  • Adrian Beltre, B-. Fans need to deal with the idea that they won't be hearing much "swung-on-and-Beltre-ed" out of Dave Niehaus, as the former power hitter completes another season of sub-par offense. He shows, however, some of the best defense at third base ever exhibited by a Mariner (eg., nearly three bare-handed toss-outs in one inning the other night).
  • Raul Ibanez, Jose Guillen, C+. They're both solid, unspectacular journeyman outfielders who look better standing next to Ichiro.
  • Yuniesky Betancourt, C-. Reports when he was playing in Tacoma indicated an ongoing magic act at shortstop. Somehow the sleight of hand is playing more like "slight" when it comes to fielding and throwing. His 19 errors lead the league. He's redeemed somewhat by the .280-range batting average but, despite the way M's-paid announcers bray his praises, Yuni is less Omar Vizquel than Joey Cora, whom he occasionally seems to channel when trying to throw to first.
  • Richie Sexson, D+. The "D" at first base is fine; one hit every five at-bats is scarcely a plus and wouldn't be tolerated were it not for the $15.5 million salary. Are there any team execs out there looking for the reincarnation of Dave Kingman? Because the new McManager sure could do worse than having Ben Broussard in the line-up at first most nights.

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