The schedule read "Day 28." Fans, however, may have imagined it was Day One of the 2012 season when the Seattle Mariners came back to Safeco Field Friday (May 4) with what many would've said was, if not a "dream team" for the season, at least something better than the nightmare lineup that had seemed to be the reason for a six-game skid coming off a long road trip.
On the road, the Mariners had just drawn 40,842 against Tampa Bay. Unfortunately for big-league bean-counters, the number had been the total for the four-game stand.
The '12 M's, then, make a pretty easy ticket-get on the road. As a bad sign for the franchise, the same is becoming only too true at home, where attendance is up only marginally from last year at this time (and bloated to 22,492 Friday, largely because of a toy-giveaway). Smallish crowds, some in the 11-K range, may be due to Seattle's 11-17 record and the underperforming of its purported star attractions, some of whom seem perilously appropriate for remedial work at the triple-A level.
Consider not so much Chone Figgins, the most conspicuous absentee from the line-up Friday against lowly Minnesota for what would be a 3-2 loss, the M's seventh straight. Figgie, by virtue of his hitting numbers having dropped like his opposing pitchers' earned-run averages during a 4-for-31 10-game road trip, was excised from Friday's line-up (Dustin Ackley, himself not exactly a young Ricky Henderson lately, batted lead-off).
Think instead about Justin Smoak, arriving home at Safeco after failing yet again to be all that he's supposed to be but, yet, finding himself the scheduled namesake for Friday's promotional event.
Imagine having to work as a shill for this organization. Efforts, necessarily planned well in advance, to prop up fan support for dubious personnel go poorly, the Smoak example among the latest.
M's brass, predictably, have been chatting up the Smoak acquisition since the day nearly two years ago when he came from Texas in the Cliff Lee deal. Smoak was supposed to bring instant offense or at least the promise thereof. Instead, poor Smoakie has been pokey instead of strokey, much less hero-key.
After his 0-for-3 game, the burly first-baseman, in 93 at-bats, had 17 hits, three for home-runs, and had fanned 24 times. This is performance deserving of a promotion night? One wonders what the M's would do if he even was up to his lifetime big-league average of .222 instead of the current .183. Name the stadium after him? Not long after Smoak joined Mike Carp and Michael Saunders by striking out in the sixth following a lead-off John Jaso double on the way to Thursday's 4-3 loss at Tampa, the TV station aired that laughable (but not in a good way) commercial in which Smoak muses about acquiring his allegedly lethal bat after felling an evergreen tree with one punch. If only he hit like that in baseball games.
The Don Drapers of M's management haven't exhibited TV-ad wishful thinking like this since the sad final days of the "Big Richie" Sexson campaign.
The M's probably could have absorbed poor performances from Figgins and Smoak, even given that they were, respectively, the everyday leadoff andcleanup guys less than a week ago.
But with several others (Michael Saunders, Dustin Ackley and, especially, Brendan Ryan) stumbling on offense, the pitching staff needs to keep the opposition to a few runs max in order to avoid losses.
At the very least, pitchers need to observe Little League-level fundamentals of baseball. Such was not the case Friday when, instead of throwing to the plate for the lead out with the bases loaded and one gone in the seventh, otherwise reliable reliever Tom Wilhelmsen tried to fire to second to start an inning-ending double play. As is often the ironic case with precision pitchers who can hit a dime-size spot in the strike zone, the righty was wild throwing in the opposite direction. His error led to the Twins getting the only three runs they'd need.
Maybe for the effort M's publicists next season will come up with a Tom Wilhelmsen toy for the ongoing train-related giveaways. Here's one humble vote for a clown car.