Mariners ain't dead yet

Time for the anything-could-happen cliches, with the team still within hailing distance of making the wild-card. Puzzle of the week: pitcher Jason Vargas.
Time for the anything-could-happen cliches, with the team still within hailing distance of making the wild-card. Puzzle of the week: pitcher Jason Vargas.

Here'ꀙs one measure of the 2009 Seattle Mariners after weeks of trading, grading, and fading: Unlike last season, the latest vintage of the M'ꀙs can beat the worst team in the American League. It'ꀙs only a technical improvement, alas. Last year the only reason the M'ꀙs couldn'ꀙt beat the worst team in the A.L. was that they were that team, and nobody seemed particularly keen on seeing a Seattle intrasquad game.

What a difference, then, a year has made. The Mariners went into Kansas City the first full week of August to play a Royals club that is becoming a dumping ground for players the M'ꀙs jettisoned for various reasons. Vestiges of former M'ꀙs rosters include Royals Gil Meche, Miguel Olivo, Willie Bloomquist, and Yuniesky Betancourt. That the 56-52 M'ꀙs took two of three from 42-66 K.C. seemed something of a failure. Why not a sweep?

The answer proved, oddly, to be a failure of starting pitching. The M'ꀙs have trotted out all sorts of promising starters this season. One, once upon a time, was left-hander Jason Vargas, but Thursday (Aug. 6) was not his night. When a thrower walks the first batter of a ball game on four pitches, fans are inclined to feel things can'ꀙt get much worse. But Vargas then allowed five hits and as many runs before getting out of the first and the M'ꀙs never seemed capable of catching up.

The 8-2 trouncing hastened a home stand against Tampa Bay and Chicago followed by four with the Yankees. Much of the Friday (Aug. 7) walk-up at Safeco Field has little to do with visions of the 'ꀙ08 A.L. champion Rays. Many patrons are expected to be scavenger-hunters hankering for Ken Griffey Jr. bobble-head effigies.

Lost in much of the discussion about the 'ꀙ09 M'ꀙs is the notion that the club isn'ꀙt quite dead yet where playoff possibilities are concerned. They'ꀙre just 6 ½ games behind in the playoff wild-card race. With 54 games remaining, the proverbial 'ꀜanything'ꀝ could happen, especially if starting pitching stabilizes and hitting picks up.

It started to happen during the final battle-Royals, with Adrian Beltre, just hours from coming off the disabled list, had his timing materialize well enough for a four-for-four night at the plate. His double-play mate, Jose Lopez, had been on a tear prior to a hitless night Thursday. His 65 runs batted in makes him the nearest thing his team has to a natural three-hole hitter.

Nagging questions still plague the M'ꀙs brain trust. One is the matter of Erik Bedard, the ne'ꀙer-feel-well lefty repeatedly rumored to be ready to start another ball game. That was to be the case as soon as Saturday (Aug. 8) but newly acquired Ian Snell got the call. Maybe Bedard needs a confidence-builder. Could be, then, that he'ꀙd be the ideal candidate to face the worst team in the league, though, given Bedard'ꀙs ongoing afflictions, he may not be ready by the time the Kansas City Royals roll into Safeco Aug. 27.


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