A Look around Baseball outside of Seattle

     Unfortunately I won’t be able to watch the Mariners second game in their series with the Royals tonight as I am attempting to get a life outside of  Blogging about the Mariners. However I was able to watch most of the featured game on Fox today between the Yankees and the Red Sox. It was a good game between these two rivals battling it out as usual for the lead in the tough AL East. The Yankees won this one 5-2 and are now 6 games up on the Red Sox and a game and a half up on Tampa Bay who lost today. It struck me as I was watching this game how both teams were made-up of primarily veterans with a few younger guys sprinkled in. Both these teams have a solid core of veterans who have played together for awhile and they seem to have good chemistry on both clubs which will help heading down the stretch. This stands in stark contrast to the current 2010 Mariners, where besides Ichiro none of the veterans have really been here that long and the younger players with less than 3 years experience dominate our club. With the departure of Mike Sweeney and Griffey we are left with Chone Figgins, Milton Bradley and Jack Wilson to provide veteran leadership. Not quite the same thing as having Jeter, Riviera, Posada, Pettitte and Rodriguez like the Yankees.

   Anyway this post was supposed to be about the rest of Baseball and not another review of an already over analyzed 2010 Mariners season. Outside of the AL East which promises to go down to the wire, there is a tough battle for the AL Central lead between the White Sox and the Twins with the White Sox currently holding a slim game and a half lead. The Texas Rangers lost today to the surprisingly pesky Oakland A’s yet still hold the largest lead of anyone in the majors at eight and a half games. This was a division that everyone said was up-for-grabs at the beginning of the year but with the addition of Cliff Lee to an already powerful lineup I would be surprised if the Rangers did not make it to the postseason.

  In the National League every division features a tight pennant race with the leaders in all three divisions only up by one game. In the NL East the Atlanta Braves are trying to win one more trip to the play-offs for their manager Bobby Cox and veteran Chipper Jones both of whom have stated they would be retiring at the end of the year. The Phillies are right on their heels and feature a solid veteran club with recent World Series experience. The NL Central gives us another great race with the Cincinnati Reds trying to get to the postseason for the first time since 1995 provided they can hold-off  Tony LaRussa and the Cardinals. And out here in the NL West the surprising San Diego Padres are in a dog-fight with their neighbors from the north the San Francisco Giants. Both of these clubs have excellent pitching and younger teams that don’t have much experience in a pennant race or the postseason but are playing great baseball.

   There are several clubs that still have a shot if they were to get hot and the division leaders start to fade. Amongst them is the Toronto Blue Jays who clobbered Tampa Bay today 17-11 and hit eight home runs! This is the first time since July 31st 2007 when the Yankees hit 8 dingers in a game that a club has produced this sort of offensive display. Toronto leads the majors in home runs and yet with a .527 winning percentage still find themselves ten and a half games out of first in the brutal AL East. The Dodgers, Brewers, Tigers, Mets and Angels also are theoretically alive in their respective divisions but time is starting to tick away for these clubs.

   It was nice to listen to Tim McCarver and to a lesser extent Joe Buck calling the game today on Fox. These guys don’t seem to drone on and on like some of our local broadcasters and always seem to have keen insights about the game at hand as well as what is going on in the rest of baseball. I know here in the NW we all too often can get a bit myopic and focus all of our sports energy on the local teams causing us to lose sight of the bigger picture. This year has certainly been a disappointing season for the Mariners but there is still a lot of great baseball going on elsewhere to enjoy for the true fan of the game…http://jeffsmariners.com

National League wins, Steinbrenner lost…

George Steinbrenner aka "The Boss"

    The National League beat the American League in the 2010 AllStar game tonight 3-1 snapping a losing streak dating back to 1996 for the NL. Today was also the day that the Baseball Gods chose to take one of the most iconic and controversial figures the game has ever known. George Steinbrenner passed away today at the age of 80 years old with his reigning World Series champs the New York Yankees in first place in the AL East with the best record in baseball. The loss of Steinbrenner cast a pale over the sunny California setting as this game got underway. 

  The story of the early innings tonight was all about pitching for both sides with neither team able to break-through till the fifth inning when Robinson Cano drove in the first run of the game for the AL with a sacrifice-fly. It looked as if the American League would continue its dominance of the mid-summer classic until the NL loaded the bases in the seventh inning bringing up catcher Brian McCann from the Atlanta Braves. McCann is not only a good defensive catcher but also that most precious of all commodities i.e. a catcher than can hit. McCann lashed a double down the right field line with two outs, to clear the bases and put the NL up for good. McCann was named the MVP of the game, and the win could very well give his team who currently sit in first place of the NL East home field advantage in the World Series. 

   Ichiro the lone representative of the Mariners did make a nice running catch in the first inning, but went hitless tonight. Former Mariner pitcher Cliff Lee pitched a 1, 2, 3 fourth inning for the AL but was only one of a number of great pitchers who got a chance to shine tonight. This game was a low scoring affair as anticipated, but seeing all of the best players in the game on one field was a treat for fans everywhere and a needed break for Mariners fans who have suffered through a tough first half. 

  As big as today’s game was, the big story in Baseball was the passing of George Steinbrenner. Steinbrenner and his Yankees represent everything that the Seattle Mariners are not and his passing will probably not be mourned to deeply in this part of the country. Yet Steinbrenner was a larger than life type of guy who had a huge impact on baseball since purchasing the Yankees in 1973. Steinbrenner from Cleveland originally wanted to purchase the Indians with the family money amassed in the shipyard business. Spurned in Cleveland, Steinbrenner purchased the Yankees for less than 8 million dollars and built them into a franchise worth over 1 billion dollars today. Steinbrenner was never the richest owner but unlike many owners including our much wealthier owner Hiroshi Yamauchi, he was never afraid to spend whatever it took to win. 

  And win he did, The Yankees won 7 World Series Championships under the watchful eye of “The Boss”. Steinbrenner was an incredible character who once said that in life “Breathing is first, winning is second”. He was perhaps best known and hated in some circles for his pursuit of free-agents including Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez, Dave Winfield and Randy Johnson which had the effect of driving wages up beyond the means of most teams. Many people including some of his players and managers did not care for his style and he actually hired and fired manager Billy Martin five times! Former Mariners manager Lou Piniella both played and managed for Steinbrenner and said today that The Boss was “Like a father figure to him”. The stories about this man could fill my next week’s worth of posts, but my favorite goes back to the thrilling 1995 Mariners season against the Yankees where I was lucky enough to attend all three home games. My memories of that series are fading but I clearly recall looking up at the screen at the Kingdome after Griffey had just scored the winning run to see George Steinbrenner going crazy in his booth. Then as I wandered outside with the rest of the crazed mob I happened to be 20 feet away from a black limo that King George jumped into right in front of my eyes storming off in a visible rage. 

   George Steinbrenner always had a flair for the dramatic much like his hero General George Patton, and that night in 95 was no different. But now love him or hate him, he is gone… making his final exit on the day of the All-Star game. George Steinbrenner has impacted the game of baseball and all those involved in it in ways we may not fully ever comprehend. As much as he represents many of the traits such as arrogance, impatience, controlling and vengeful that represent the worst aspects of the human condition, he also wanted to win at all costs… and he did. Personally I  wonder what the state of the current Mariners franchise would be like if we had an owner with one half the amount of passion, daring and desire to win as George Steinbrenner gave to his team and fans….Sadly I doubt we will ever know. Goodbye George you were one of a kind….http://jeffsmariners.com

Mariners take an All-Star break after losing 8-2

  The Seattle Mariners lost an afternoon game to the New York Yankees 8-2 today before heading into the All-Star break. Today’s game was all Yankees as C.C. Sabathia had his good stuff today topping out at 98mph. Ryan Rowland-Smith got the start for the Mariners and the defense behind him was shoddy aided by the elusive Seattle summer sun which added a few more base runners for the first place NY Yankees. On a day when the rest of the world watched Spain win the World Cup, over 40,000 fans got to see the clear difference between a contending team and one that is going to have a long year.

  Interestingly enough Casey Kotchman went 3-4 including a solo home run, getting the start at first pushing Russell Branyan to the bench. Newcomer Justin Smoak picked-up his first hit as a Mariner and is now 1-8 since coming over. While it is too early to tell on Smoak, It is a bit perplexing to wonder why we traded for another guy to play 1st after picking-up Russell Branyan and Casey Kotchman seems to have found his stroke.

  There are a lot of questions to ask besides who will play first base, such as who will be the catcher, left fielder, the bullpen mess and a rotation that seems up in the air. Also we seem to have an extra Wilson and a new Sweeney coupled with Mike Sweeney due to come-off the DL to play where? The Mariners did have a great game Saturday night and there is some talent on this club. But will it be enough to avoid a 100 loss season? I hope so as I am committed to finishing out my rookie year as a Mariners Blogger.

   I am hoping to make a few improvements over the break to make this site more user-friendly and I welcome any imput from my readers. Would you like a bigger font? Perhaps Podcasts or video blogging? Do you want more stories from the past or from around the rest of baseball? This site is evolving along with my journalistic and creative style. I will be making it easier to follow this site on Twitter, Facebook and to receive daily feeds via RSS or e-mail.

  So now it is time to try to clear our heads of all the negativity surrounding this tough first-half and try to stay positive on this season. Now that the weather is beautiful we will all have other things to enjoy here in the Great Northwest, but I know some of you will be following this team right up till the last-pitch and I plan on continuing the voyage with you. http://jeffsmariners.com

Lopez hits salami as Felix pitches a 4-1 gem

  The Mariners snapped a 5-game losing streak tonight in a great game that featured great pitching by both starting pitchers in front of 42,558 fans at Safeco field. Felix Hernandez went the whole way tonight to get the win and Joba Chamberlain who came in to relieve Yankees starter Javiar Vazquez got the loss. Hernandez made it clear to everyone that he is the Ace of the staff after sharing that role with Cliff Lee who is gone. And to be honest as much as I liked Cliff Lee, The Felix Hernandez who I saw tonight pitched with more emotion and attitude than the departed Lee. Besides the 1-run shot he surrendered to Nick Swisher in the third, Felix was as tough and gutsy as they come.

   It looked as if this one was going to be another outing where the Mariners would not back-up their warrior after being held in-check by Vazquez for most of the night including another bases-loaded situation in the 7th where we came away with no runs. However in the bottom of the 8th Jack Wilson lead-off with a single off of Chamberlain, followed by fielder’s choice by Ichiro. Chone Figgins slapped a single to left and Russell Branyan loaded the bases with a free-pass. This brought up Jose Lopez who on a 2-0 count tomahawked a line drive that left the park and cleared the bases for the Mariners. The rest was history as Hernandez came out and finished off the Yankees in the ninth still reaching 97 mph with his fast ball, striking out Curtis, Posada and Gardner. King Felix blew a kiss to the Yankees dugout after retiring the side as a way of saying “Ya you are going to the play-offs, but I still own you”. It was just what this team needed along with us fans that have been through the ringer lately with all the drama around Cliff Lee’s departure.

  Justin Smoak arrived on the scene today donning the uniform of his new team and going 0-4 with three k’s. But tonight belonged to King Felix and his countryman Jose Lopez from Venezuela who delivered the fans in Seattle a great game. At this point in the season batting averages, standings and DL stints are not as important. We have reached a surreal sort of place where it is easy to just focus on the game at-hand and tonight we got a wonderful show. http://jeffsmariners

Yankees win third game of series 4-2

   The New York Yankees managed to avoid being swept by the Seattle Mariners in an afternoon game today thanks to a 2-run homer from ex-Mariner Alex Rodriguez. After losing the first two games of this series to the Mariners, the Yankees sent their Ace CC Sabathia to the mound today to stop the bleeding. Sabathia faced Ryan Rowland-Smith who managed to keep this one close through his six innings of work. Rowland-Smith gave up 5 hits today including a home run to Robinson Cano in the 4th inning with 2 out and no one on. Besides the homer to Cano who is having a MVP type season, the big Aussie pitched well despite receiving no run support from the players behind him on the field.

  Sabathia also allowed only five hits on the day silencing the Mariners bats which had been hot in this series up until this game. The Mariners only managed three hits till the 8th inning as the Yanks cruised to what looked like would be a complete-game shutout of their own. However in the 8th Josh Bard walked and moved to second on a single by Ichiro, setting the stage for Russell Branyon. The Muscle came through with a clutch 2-out single to drive in both runners tying the game 2-2. It appeared that the Mariners were back in it but for some reason Don Wakamatsu decided to pull reliever Brian Sweeney who pitched another run-free 7th, instead bringing in David Aardsma. This decision by Wak proved to be fatal as Aardsma once again choked giving up a 2-run bomb to Alex Rodriguez to seal the fate of the Mariners today. Aardsma gave A-Rod a fastball up that he dropped just over the short right field fence setting the stage for Mariano Rivera.

   Rivera came jogging in to do what he has become the best at, namely shutting down opposing teams to preserve leads. Up until the A-Rod bomb and Rivera’s appearance, this series did not seem like the same Yankees team we are used to. But the Bronx Bombers still have their old-guard heroes that seem to have a flair for the dramatic, as well as the killer-instinct. Despite the loss today the Mariners come away with another series win and were in today’s game right up until the end. Hopefully our boys can head over to Detroit and continue playing the sort of competitive ball that they have been playing for the past couple of weeks.http://jeffsmariners.com

Mariners crush Yankees again 7-0!

Lee and Hernandez a pair of Aces

    The Seattle Mariners shutout the New York Yankees 7-0 in front of 46,309 stunned fans in the Bronx. Felix Hernandez used his wicked slider mixed in with his lively fastball to blank the Yankees giving up only 2 hits en route to his third complete-game of the year. Hernandez kept the AL East leading Yankees big bats silent for the second night in a row, following Cliff Lee’s similar performance in the first game of the three game series. Hernandez who had some rough outings earlier in the year is definitely hitting his stride in the month of June delivering perhaps his best showing of the 2010 campaign.

  The Mariners offense was back on track for the second night in a row as well giving King Felix a seven run cushion to work with. In a role reversal of sorts the Mariners came up with 4 long-balls tonight, including 2 from young Michael Saunders and one each from Milton Bradley and Russell Branyon. Bradley delivered the first bomb in the top of the second inning to set the tone for the surging Mariners who moved to 33-44 on the year with tonight’s sweet victory. In the next inning Michael Saunders came up with his first homer followed by an RBI single off the bat of Jose Lopez who is quietly finding his stroke, making it 3-0. Hernandez cruised through the middle innings toying with the powerful Bronx Bombers continuing to add to his strikeout total which would eventually reach 11.

  In the top of the 7th after Chone Figgins singled and stole second, Russell “The Muscle” Branyon blasted his first home run since returning to the Mariners and suddenly the Mariners were up 5-0. It was nice to see the burly Branyon hit his 11th homer of the year in only his second game back to help silence the critics who second guessed this move. But the night was not yet quite over for the Mariners offense as Michael Saunders went on to add another two-run blast in the eighth inning. Hitting two homers in one night at Yankee stadium will go a long way in boosting the confidence level for youngster from B.C.

   This past few weeks have felt like a new season for the Mariners, and for the last two nights the Mariners bats have given the run support to their Aces that hasn’t been there for most of the season. We still have eleven games to go before the All-Star break and it’s entirely feasible that our boys could pass-up the Oakland A’s in the standings before the second-half of the season starts. But for now it is one game at a time, starting with tomorrow mornings final of this series with C.C. Sabathia going against Ryan Rowland-Smith. You can bet the Yankees have had enough of losing to the upstarts from Seattle, Ryan Rowland-Smith will need to continue to pitch as well as he has done lately to give the Mariners a sweep in the Bronx.

    Meanwhile the Cliff Lee saga drags on one more day with the contenders posturing in the press with rumors, in an effort to try to see if they can get the Mariners to settle for prospects. The Mariners have let it be known through channels that we are looking for a Major League- ready middle of the order bat. I applaud Jack Zduriencik for playing his cards close to his chest, holding out for what we need. In reality if we can keep playing winning ball a good case can be made for keeping Cliff Lee. More will be revealed as the summer sun grows warmer……..http://jeffsmariners.com

Out of the Beer Vat into the Big Apple

     The Milwaukee Brewers beat the Seattle Mariners 3-0 today, winning the series 2-1. This was another game with a familiar 2010 Mariners story-line. Good starting pitching, in this case Jason Vargas, and no offense. Throw in the usual odd ways to kill rallies such as the 8th inning where Ichiro attempted a bunt with 2 on and 1 out, and then went on to line into a double play to end the threat, and you know how the story turns out. The whole Milwaukee experience was quaint with the sausage races and all but now our club is heading into the Lion’s den known as Yankee stadium.

  If you thought the Cubs fans were a bit pushy  last week, try going to New York the center of the baseball universe. While Jeter, Rodriguez, Posada and Riviera may be aging they still have a great team. Many of you may remember when we had a sort of rivalry with the Yankees in the 95-01 stretch that was quite intense. Ken Griffey Jr. once even stated “I’ll never be a Yankee” and “Yankees Suck” t-shirts had to be banned at Safeco field. Of course the difference then was that we had teams who could and did regularly beat the Bronx Bombers. Now it has become almost an odd ritual for the Yankees fans to come to Safeco and practically take over as Mariners fans are trying to watch the hydro races or the hat trick.

  I would venture to guess that there won’t be more than a few hundred Mariners fans at the game when the first pitch is thrown Tuesday night. Those that do attend will be treated more like an oddity than any real threat unlike the dreaded Red Sox fans. Guys like Michael Saunders, Rob Johnson and Josh Wilson do not even show-up on the radar for the knowledgeable Yankees fans and their overzealous media. But the guy throwing that first pitch for the Mariners Tuesday night is well-known in the Big Apple. Cliff Lee was able to shut down the Yankees twice last year pitching for the Phillies in the World Series. The media will be out in force as the speculation about Lee’s future grows stronger every day.

  Meanwhile Jack Zduriencik has just brought back Russell “The Muscle” Branyon leading some people to speculate that the Mariners may not be receiving any offers for Lee that make him worth trading at all, thus Jack Z. went to get a power bat and now we will stand pat. Ok it is a stretch, but just maybe all this talk about Lee being a good influence on the Mariners and worth keeping around to teach the young pitchers a few things is indeed true. Perhaps Jack Z. is playing a chess game of sorts and he is setting up some later move. I hope so; we deserve something out of this season even if we just thumb our noses at the rest of the country by keeping Lee for the rest of the year. Jack Z. has stated that in order to develop players they need to do it by winning. Well what better way than to keep Cliff Lee around, hope Branyon produces and try to have a good second half to build on. If we somehow manage to re-sign Cliff Lee that would be a bonus, otherwise we get to win some games and help teach our younger players how to compete like true professionals, plus get some draft picks

   So as it turns out there is a lot of subtext going on that may allow our team to once again represent the independent nature of the people who live in the Northwest. Maybe not as direct as when Griffey made his declaration but it could turn out to be just as sweet. Http://jeffsmariners.com

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