The Mariners are in the hunt for an all-league 81-81 season

So pervades mediocrity in the American League that the M's could be contenders. They head east now to face underachievers Detroit and New York.
So pervades mediocrity in the American League that the M's could be contenders. They head east now to face underachievers Detroit and New York.

Usually we withhold judgment about a Seattle Mariners home stand until it's over. But a particularly inauspicious start to a quick three-game set was worth noting as we sat in morbid fascination at Safeco Field at 7:36 p.m. Friday, May 16. It was a few minutes into a game pitting the worst teams in both leagues, a rarity in the annals of inter-league play. Bad as they are (look, they lost two of three to the M's), the San Diego Padres came within feet of hitting for the cycle during the first inning of what would prove to be a 6-4 Mariners loss. The Padres had a single, double, and triple (though not in that order) before a long fly-ball out. Five outs later, San Diego's Tadahito Iguchi dinged to left field, and by the end of the second inning Seattle was behind 4-0. The M's at the time were hitless and their managers and coaches looked clueless, customarily so this season.

Featured that night was a bobblehead-toy giveaway. For many, it proved to be less a giveaway than a walkaway, as some of us observed while approaching the stadium. Many "fans" had arrived early, grabbed their toys, and (bobble-)headed home, presumably — for an inanimate plastic effigy looking nothing like J.J. Putz poses little in the way of amusement value — to see what such an item might fetch on the secondary market online.

One wondered whether this is what Mariners baseball has become: an ongoing bobblehead promotion masquerading as a major-league organization. Yes, the M's battled back late Saturday, May 17, to beat the Padres 4-2. Yes, they did it again Sunday (3-2), May 18, before heading to Detroit and New York to see (starting Tuesday, May 20) how the other weakest American League teams play. Is there any reason beyond winning a home series against 16-29 San Diego that the once-promising 2008 season can become competitive?

Remarkably, the answer is "yes."

Had the Los Angeles Angels lost May 18, the under-achieving M's would have been within 6-1/2 games of the A.L. West lead. As May 19 dawns, no team in the league is better than eight games above .500. It's beginning to look as though this could become the A.L. season when every club finishes 81-81, though the M's would have to go 62-54 from here on out to be part of that 14-team tie.

Offense would keep this from happening. April slumps by key players have turned into evidence of chronic problems. Fixes that were "obvious" to many (this observer included) haven't worked, which is why Tacoma titan Jeff Clement was trucked back down Interstate 5 to the farm club after the latest game (he had just eight hits in 48 at-bats after being summoned to the big-league club as April waned). Adrian Beltre figured significantly in each of the games against San Diego, but he figured well just once. He fanned with the bases loaded in games one and three. Saturday, his seventh-inning two-run homer won the game.

Richie Sexson's cheering section has become confined to the team's broadcast booth. Sunday, perhaps emboldened by Big Richie's sixth-inning single, announcer Dave Sims pronounced a later Sexson matchup as tantamount to "power versus power." When this is the case, "power" always wins. Mighty Richie, alas, struck out, but it's still early, and we're withholding judgment about the first-sacker. He's hitting an even .200 and — who knows? — may yet eclipse his 2007 mark of .205.


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