How far they’ve come


Look at how far they’ve come.

Watching the game last night, I realized something. The Mariners as a team have come a long way from where they were a few years ago, or last year, or even earlier this season. Let me explain what I mean.

When the M’s lost 101 games back in 2008, they did everything poorly. As a team, they were bad defensively, they had a horrible approach at the plate, and they didn’t pitch very well. Off the field they were even worse. They signed bad free agents to huge contracts (Silva). They traded away good prospects for bad players. They held on to the prospects that wouldn’t pan out. They even drafted poorly.

Looking back, it wouldn’t be out of the question to say they were the worst franchise in baseball.

Look at how far they’ve come.

Gone are Yuniesky Betancourti and Jose Lopez. Instead of the overrated and overpaid defensive pylons who refused to take a pitch, the middle infield is now manned by slick fielding professionals who have a good approach at the plate.

And these are just the stop-gaps filling in until the real talent is ready. The same team that made us fans suffer through season after season of Lopez playing second is now patiently waiting for Dustin Ackley’s defense to mature before brining him up. Fundamentals are important now.

They best prospects in the in the system back then were Jeff Clement and Wladimir Balentien, incomplete players with obvious gaps in their talent, who predictably failed to make an impact in the majors. While we watched these players fail, other teams reap the benefits of the M’s front office who’d traded away the likes of Adam Jones, Shin Soo Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera.

Now, the team is lead by youngsters Justin Smoak and Michael Pineda, with Ackley about to make his appearance in the next few weeks. It should be noted that the M’s could have had all-star outfielder Justin Upton of the Diamondbacks this past offseason for 2 out of the 3 players listed above. They chose to stand pat and be patient and are reaping the rewards now.

Suddenly this is a front office can evaluate minor league talent. Instead they trade away overhyped prospects like Tyson Gillies and Phillippe Aumount, while keeping those prospects who might have a chance to generally succeed.

Look at how far they’ve come.

A year ago, during another 101 loss disaster of a season, the clubhouse exuded disruption. From sleep-gate, to Milton Bradley’s time on the restricted list, to Griffey’s sudden retirement, to the dugout fight between Chone Figgins and manager Don Wakamatsu, this team was a model for disruption and chaos.

The contrast between that and now couldn’t be greater. This year’s team is a tight ship ran by a no nonsense manager in Eric Wedge. Wedge sat second baseman Jack Wilson for a week for not acting professionally after Wilson pulled himself from a game . The team was also willing to eat almost $12 million in salary in order to jettison Bradley, a player who was never going to demonstrate the accountability preached by the team’s management.

The results of this transformation are hard to quantify. There’s no stat for clubhouse unity. Yet it is clear that players have bought in the message. This is a team that now does the little things right. This is a team that works hard, prepares well, and gets the most out of it’s limited talent.

Last season’s Mariners gave the game’s best pitcher absolutely no run support, leading to Felix Hernandez winning the Cy Young award with only a 13-12 record last season. Last night, rookie Pineda struggled with his control and was consequently was hit pretty hard. But this is the new Mariners, and so the team picked him up. Franklin Gutierrez jumped over the wall and brought back a home run, the bullpen shut down the powerful Yankee lineup, and the offense scrapped and clawed enough runs scratch out a 1 run victory.

Look at how far they’ve come.

Back in April, when the M’s were mired in a 8-15 start to the season, the offense couldn’t score when it mattered. When the M’s scored 5, it was at the end of a game when the pitchers had already given up 7. When the pitching staff shut down the opponent and only gave up 2 runs, the offense would only manage 1. It was painful to watch.

Now, the Mariners have turned that around. When they give up 3 runs, the offense scraps together 4 on on balls hit maybe a combined 400 feet. It isn’t always pretty, and no one would call this offense good, but they’re scoring early in games, and scoring just enough to get the job done.

Instead of finding ways to lose games; an untimely error, a ball lost in the sun, poor base running, they are finding ways to win against more talented opponents. Suddenly they are doing the little things that good teams do; staying in a rundown long enough to let the base runners advance, getting the ball to the right side of the infield so the runner on third can score, picking off base runners when an out is needed. Games are fun to watch again.

Look at how far they’ve come.

They still have a long way to go, but lets stop and appreciate just how far they’ve come so far.