Thursday, June 28, 2007

Cutting Edge Defensive Ratings

This is the funniest baseball-related thing I've read in some time, so long as we include the comments as well as the brilliant piece itself.

Of course, the greatest defensive player in the majors today is left off the chart. Let's add him:

Player Rating FPCT Grit
Bloomquist 127.3 0.917 999999

Saturday, June 23, 2007

I'd like my crow done medium well, please

Technically, I didn't say Feierabend would shut down the Reds, but when you make a direct comparison between a raw rookie and Jamie Moyer, you're asking for trouble.

Actually, I meant Jamie Moyer, circa 2004. Seriously.

Could tonight's game have been any more brutal? Feierabend couldn't find the strike zone with both hands and a flashlight, Davis was similarly rocked, the defense committed two errors and Willie Outquist was the hitting "star" with the lone RBI for Seattle. Naturally, he made an out in the process.

Any game in which you lose 16-1 and fail in every phase is painful, but particularly so tonight given the anticipation over Griffey's return. Heck, I was even half-rooting for Griffey to knock one over the wall for old time's sake, yet the best he could do was a single in a 1/5 night. Ironically, in a game where the Reds feasted on M's pitching, he had the worst stat line of all Cincinnati regulars, whiffing three times.

With the offense in deep freeze tonight, they just weren't going to win. But losing 16-1 is an exclamation point with respect to the state of the pitching staff. Felix, Washburn and Batista have been wildly inconsistent this season, and they're clearly the team's top three starters. Maybe we need to coin a Spahn/Sain-esque phrase: The King, Jarrod, Miguel, and two days in Hell.

I've got to go draw horns on Bill Bavasi's visage. Smell you later.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Days of Junior Past

We make no secret of our adoration for Junior Griffey here at Tatonka.

Its not like we're blind to his weaknesses. He can be whiny, petulant, moody, and thin-skinned. He was notorious for calling out members of the press who had written or said things critical of him wihtout having actually read or heard the criticisms. Although I truly believe his desire to be traded was largely for the reasons he said at the time (to be closer to his family) the way it all went down left a bad taste in my mouth certainly.

But I am more excited about this game tonight as I have been for any game in a long time. At least as far back as Felix's first start, but itmay be even longer since I've been this pumped. I am attending my first game of the year on Saturday. I am Tivoing the game tomight and will probably re-watch the pre-game ceremony at some point in the next week. Get the picture?

There was a preview piece this week in one of the papers. For graphics they used his Upper Deck rookie card (got one), his candy bar (yep), and the Sports Illustrated cover with "The Natural" emblazoned across the front (it got a little beat up in a move, but yes I still have it). I got them all out last night and just kind of looked through them. I might bring my autographed ball (Spring Training 1992) to the game on Saturday, just to have it.

This weekend, I get to see my favorite player of all time. The bat waggle, that perfect swing, hopefully a smile or two, a reminder of the salad days of Mariner baseball. A reminder of the Kid who led us from the darkness, the player who made the Mariners a laughing stock no more. Yeah, I'm a little excited.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Chariots of Feierabend

The Mariners are my fantasy baseball team - literally and figuratively.

I own plenty of them: Ichiro, Willie Outquist, Miguel Batista, the rights to Mark Lowe and Ryan Feierabend and until a recent trade, Kenji Johjima. Over the years, my team has been peppered with Mariners, which may in part explain my lack of success the past four seasons or so. Figuratively speaking, Bill Bavasi has employed a studs-and-scrubs building strategy, with poor previous results but a modicum of success this season (37-32). So did I, and so have I.

The Mariners have a can't-miss #1 starter, a lethal bullpen and not much in between. I have a can't-miss #1 starter, two lights-out closers and not much in between.

Both the Mariners and the McLaughlin Group ("Wrong!") could use a reliable, innings-eating 5th starter that throws strikes and keeps the team in the game until the 6th/7th innings. Cha Seung Baek was called up to be that guy, but (not surprisingly) has had mixed results, as evidenced by his 5.74 ERA and 1.5 WHIP. So who is riding to the rescue, replacing Baek in the rotation for the M's starting this Friday and may end up replacing one of no-name starters on my fantasy team as well?

Welcome back to the show, Ryan Feierabend.

Feierabend has a fair amount of pundits believing he's got a future in the big leagues. Check out this article from about a year ago in Prospect Insider:

"Then 19, he posted a stingy 1.16 ERA in July and a solid 3.44 mark in August. He’s continued with that success throughout this season, with few exceptions, and it’s probably about time we start talking about him as a legitimate prospect and a serious candidate to break into the M’s rotation within the next two seasons".


n the 48 2/3 innings, he’s allowed just 13 extra-base hits, including four home runs (he’s surrendered more than two XBH in a start just once). That’s 13 hits of two bases or more in 191 batters faced. That’s impressive for anyone at any level.

He’s tough on lefties (.232 avg, 1HR in 103 batters faced) and has a wicked pick-off move that often times ends up with the first baseman gunning down the runner at second base.

He’s allowed a .173 average to the first batter of the inning and has just three wild pitches all season. he does have areas of concern, such as performing with ducks on the pond and getting tougher with runners in scoring position and two down."

Jamie Moyer with a fastball, anyone?

Granted, that's hyperbole to the nth degree. Feierabend may well have similar inconsistent tendencies that Baek displayed. On the other hand, until Jeff Weaver's soul-selling shutout the other night, he had the longest outing for a Mariners starter this month at 7 1/3 innings. The league is hitting a relatively-modest .279 against him in 16 innings. It isn't a statistically-relevant sample size, but given the studs and scrubs strategy, we'll take it. Just for fun, here are the batting averages against the other M's starters so far this year:

Hernandez: .305
Washburn: .269
Batista: .299
Ramirez: .335
Baek: .292
Weaver: (trivia buffs, take note - this number is identical to Ty Cobb's lifetime BA): .367.

Given the high numbers across-the-board and the disasters that Ramirez and Weaver have been, Feierabend's 4.50 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and relatively-low BA against portend well for an extended stay in the rotation. Let's hope so. The offense appears generally good enough to produce most nights, the defense is one of the best in the league and the bullpen is top notch. Bavasi's patchwork, crazy quilt rotation is the gigantic Achille's heel of this team.

The Mariners aren't likely to contend for the playoffs this year, but an 84-88 win season would do wonders for the psyches of success-deprived Seattleites everywhere. It might even spare Bavasi and Hargrove from the hangman's noose. Sorry about that, M's fans.

Mike Hargrove's Internal Monlogue

That's what we signed Weaver for! He's a freaking World Series Hero! He knows how to stop a losing streak. Mmmmm...donuts.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Well, that really sucked

Just when the M's have imbued us with optimism and got us scoreboard watching, they go and pull this.

One painful 5 game losing streak later and we're back to wondering whether we should trade Ichiro. They had us! And then they lost us.

I know it was a Sunday, a traditional day to get your bench guys in the lineup, Beltre is hurt, Guillen is sore, but the eight guys Numbnuts ran out there really shows how poorly this team is constructed:

CF Ichiro
3B Lopez
2B Vidro
LF Ibanez
1B Sexson
RF Broussard
Ca Johjima
SS Betancourt

Lopez is passable at 2nd, but not a 3rd baseman, Vidro is as bad as advertised at 2nd and Broussard is a pretty mediocre 1st baseman stuck in the outfield. If I were Washburn, I think I would have refused the ball. I know Ellison is no great shakes, but if you won't play your backup outfielder when your starter is hurt, why keep him around?

I guess I'm glad Hargrove is being creative about Beltre being out instead of just plugging Outquist in at third and moving on, but again, if your backup infielder is so bad that you can't play him, maybe you need a different backup infielder!

And! Ron Fairly? Are you kidding me? I'm fine with Blowers getting a series off but Captain Obvious? At one point yesterday, with the M's down 5, he starts up on the "What the Mariners need are a few baserunners," crap. Seriously! Baserunners? Somebody get word to Hargrove! We need baserunners! But before I can say a word, my wife says, "Honey, easy. Easy." She knows I'm this close to reaching through the TV and thrashing Fairly within an inch of his life! Blarg!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Lou's Crew: Respect the Game

I miss Lou Piniella as manager, but watching the degenerating clubhouse and bunch of guys that is the Chicago Cubs right now, I would hate to be a Cubs fan just about now. Lou has made a caricature of himself in a quest for the dubious record of "most ejected manager ever," and his "leadership" on this issue surely has something to do with the Cubs players recent chronic belligerence.

On the first of June, Carlos Zambrano and catcher Michael Barrett got into a fight in the dugout during an 8-5 drubbing by Atlanta, making the "friendly confines" a bit less so. Barrett required stitches after Zambrano attacked him, apparently frustrated that Barrett allowed a passed ball (but not blaming himself for his own truly sucktastic pitching effort, allowing Atlanta 13 hits and 2 walks with no strikeouts in 5 innings pitched).

Piniella's response to utterly losing control of his team? "These things shouldn't happen. Go fight the other team if you have to."

Subsequently, the Chicago series in Atlanta last weekend saw more fireworks as showboat Alfonso Soriano got hit in the back by Braves starter Tim Hudson one day after clubbing three home runs. The next day, on the 10th of June, Cubs starter Ted Lilly was ejected after hitting Braves shortstop Edgar Renteria with a pitch just ten pitches into the game. It looked innocent enough, and Renteria did not charge the mound, but the benches did empty in the tense environment, and Renteria did manage to smack Mike Fontenot (Cubs second baseman) in the face pretty hard when he arrived at second on a stolen base later in the first.

The point here is that it's apparently OK for Cubs pitchers to hit opposing batters up high (Renteria got beaned in the chin), but not the other way around. This afternoon, in the midst of the fourth inning of no-hit ball in a 0-0 tie in Wrigley, San Diego starter Chris Young rode a pitch up and in that hit first baseman Derrek Lee in the shoulder. The home plate umpire completely abdicated his responsibility here, paying no attention as Lee calmly strode out halfway between home and the mound (in the general direction of first, but NOT down the baseline), exchanged words with Young (who looked apologetic, but who MUST have said something inflammatory to Lee), then stopped and unleashed a huge punch at Young. Young swung back, and a bases-clearing standoff preceded ejections of Lee, Young, Cubs pitching coach Gerald Perry, and Padres pitcher Jake Peavy (whose comments in the paper this week about Soriano's showing up Padres pitchers by admiring one of his home runs surely made him no fans in Chicago).

I can't imagine any on-field behavior that could lower my respect for Derrek Lee more than this. What a buffoon, and a coward. Take your base, play the game. Hit a homer later to get revenge. Did you learn nothing from the immortal Robin Ventura-Nolan Ryan beatdown? Too many baseball players pay too little attention to history. Young, for all his control (this is but his 4th hit batsman in 2007), did not appear to be hitting Lee on purpose, and there's not really any good reason for him to have done so. But Lee instigated the comedic fight, full of swings and misses, and Soriano was clearly laughing about the situation immediately afterward. (Of course, it's hard to respect him much at all, but he's well paid for me not to respect him, so there you go.)

As it happens, I root for neither the Cubs nor the Padres, so I don't care too much about the outcome of this game. But what on Earth has happened to Lou Piniella to turn him into the kind of manager who inspires guys (like Derrek Lee, who once was someone worthy of respect) to be disrespectful to the game and their competitors? Why do you put up with a Soriano? Why can't you control fights within your own team?

Even the WGN announcing duo of Len Kasper and Bob Brenly seems to have bought into whatever story the Cubs are telling about this chronic chaos, as they narrated the fight and its aftermath by trying to blame the Padres for intentionally throwing at Lee, for placing blame (warranted, in this case) on the negligent home plate umpire, and for attempting to exonerate Lee for his actions by pointing out how emotional you get if you're hit by a high pitch--I'm sure that entered their dialogue a week ago in Atlanta, too. Not. I understand backing the home guys, but their verbal contortions to defend Lee's actions were repugnant.

The Cubs are out of control. They're in a weak division that they could still win, but I for one couldn't root for them at this point.

It's very sad, and I'm just glad that it's not happening in Seattle. We remember you fondly, Lou, but in large part it was because your teams USED to respect the game.

In relation to our suddenly struggling Mariners (hey, I thought that interleague play was supposed to spark a huge winning streak? j/k), is the Cubs' example of "fiery play" the kind of thing that Grover has had in mind as missing from the Mariners' dugout? Is that why Bavasi brought in supposed "clubhouse leaders" like Carl Everett and Jose Guillen, to get the team into fights and inspire them by disrespecting the game?

I'm all for a team of surly guys who don't get along but whose talent wins games. I am not at all defending the emphasis on "good guys" who appeal to a "family atmosphere" at the Safe. But there's definitely a line between "talented and surly" and "talented and disrespectful." Derrek Lee, Alfonso Soriano...Cubs fans can have 'em, if they're gonna cross that line repeatedly. Although since they're still 4 games under .500 despite spending several gajillion dollars on free agents in the offseason...well, I'm sorry Chicago fans. But your team is unlovable right now. I know and respect many Cubs fans, and there's plenty of wonderful tradition on the South Side.

But I'll keep the M's, thanks.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Wee Willie Outquist

It's a bit refreshing to see the romanticist within all of us peering toward the burgeoning sunlight that is Mariners baseball of late, necks craning skyward, pasty-white faces bathing in something we don't see much of here in Seattle: sports optimism.

Stop the presses! The M's are hot!

Admittedly, I have elements of front-runner within me. I don't enjoy confessing that, but it's true. Yes, I listen/watch games nightly, win, lose or draw. I go to games every year. In fact, the two years I went the most frequently were '05 and '06, coinciding neatly with the nadir of the franchise since the previous bottoming-out in the early 90's. Perhaps God is ordering me to stay away from the ballpark - or else. But the state of the franchise in recent years has gotten me down, and although I'm still cynical, I feel the pangs of optimism stirring within me once again. Despite all the illogical dumpster-diving Bill Bavasi has done during his tenure, maybe this team is finally clicking. Those feelings have brought me back to this blog and have me following the team even more closely. Hope springs eternal.

Given the fairly benign state of affairs at present, then, why am I making a derogatory reference about our jack-of-all-trades utility player? Well, it's like this. You know that old saying, "the only sure things in life are death and taxes"? There's one more sure thing: Willie Bloomquist produces outs. In spades. All the time. Amen.

Actually, it's preordained. The suffix qvist means twig in Finnish. How can poor Willie be expected to hit well when he's metaphorically swinging a twig at the plate? Life imitates art, as they say, and he sure hits as if his bat has all the sock of a twig.

Now, I know what you're going to say. Willie's not that bad, you heartless non-Bloomquistphile. Why don't you do a little research, you anti-Bloomite? Check out his batting average coming into the game today - .254. His career average is .257. No, he won't win a Silver Slugger award, but I wouldn't kick him out of the dugout for eating crackers.

I would. Willie has one overriding ability that makes any other talent he has pale by comparison, and that is his ability to create outs at the plate. Case in point: today's game. With Beltre still suffering from an injury, Bloomquist started once again and played third base. Ordinarily, he'd bat 9th and be the A.L. equivalent of the pitcher's spot in the National League. However, Hargrove decided to bench Jojima and the game was at Wrigley Field, thus leading to a dilemma - who bats 9th? In the end, Grover must have figured Bloomquist's loyalty overcame statistical logic, so he let both Burke and Weaver bat behind him. Given his relatively high position in the lineup, he had a decent chance to generate some runs. Instead, this was his stat line:

0-4, with three K's.

He put the ball in play once. I didn't see the game, but dollars-to-donuts it was a popup or a meek grounder. The other day, I watched him get a hit where it looped past the out-of-position second baseman, hit the dirt on the edge of the outfield grass and squirted into right. Bloomquist epitomizes the saying, "they all look like line drives in the box score."

His average now stands at .239.

Oh, by the way, his slugging percentage now sits at .269. Last year, in 251 AB's, his slugging percentage was .299. He had six doubles, two triples and one miracle home run where he must have caught a 25-mph tailwind and popped it into the first row down the left field line.

Willie has speed. Willie can serve as an adequate defensive replacement late in the game, or pinch run. Maybe he's really adept at washing cars, I don't know. But when it comes to swinging the bat, he's one of the best in the American League at making outs. Period.

Hence the nickname Willie Outquist. It fits like a batting glove - which Willie has no use for anyway.

Heartbreak and other Emotions

I watched the game today with a certain amount of amusement...there is not a sports team on the planet that has the "right" to out-complain Cubs fans, so when the Cubs' non-inhaling version of Jeff Weaver (Jason Marquis) fell apart in a weird sixth inning (hit the pitcher, bad error by Mark DeRosa at third, and then a bases-clearing double to the ivy by Rauuuuuul) that even saw the home plate umpire lecture Jose Guillen for several minutes because...well, because the ump was in the way--when that happened, it was karma that the Cubs had to come back in unexpected fashion. When even Jeff Weaver scattered TEN (ten, 10, or, if you like X) hits over his six-inning "quality start," you knew something had to go wrong.

And the heartbreak of Brandon Morrow being unable to hit the corners in the eighth (it happens, he was really close on every pitch, but they WERE all balls, alas) and subsequently coughing up a won game couldn't really compare to anything in Wrigley Field, so we don't really get to complain or feel sorry for ourselves.

Two things strike me here. First, I currently lack the doom-and-gloom certainty that this is the beginning of a downward spiral, or the beginning of the end. That's pretty refreshing as an emotion connected to the M's, and it sure surprised me to feel that way when I flipped the TV off after Howry nailed down the final out.

Secondly, though, this whole story points up something interesting about emotions, character, grit (we had both Outquist and Burke in the lineup today...isn't that enough grit to win?), or what have you. There's a reason that sample sizes, rationality, science, and math explain so much about winning or losing major league baseball teams. Sure, we all want to read the schlock that lazy sportswriters dish out about the great chemistry of winning ballclubs (Jeff at Lookout Landing has a fantastic rant on that very point today)--we must, 'cause they keep publishing that dreck--but in truth, a six-month season CAN'T be driven wholly by emotion or character or chemistry. And if it were, we'd have found a way to measure it by now.

So I'll keep rooting, but I'm rooting for runs scored and (for the love of God) better pitching performances, rather than pie-in-the-face team chemistry.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Game of the year?

That, my friends, was awesome.

Extra inning win? Awesome.

Sherrill's strikeout to get out of a bases loaded jam in the eighth? Awesome.

Putz getting his 4th save in 5 games? Awesome.

Vidro half-heartedly running through a stop sign, dogging it down the line, not sliding or taking out the catcher, then coming back to tag to the plate after Michael "Joe Frazier" Barrett dropped Jacque Jones' six hop throw to the plate?






Monday, June 11, 2007

How did we get here? Offense

Going into Monday's play the M's are 33-26. 7 games over 500!!! This is a team that was maybe one or two more losses from firing their Numbnut manager in April. How did this happen? How did we get here? Keeping the focus on the positive today, I'd like to focus on how our improved offense has contributed to our surprising rebound.

The offense as a whole has been excellent. The M's are 7th in the AL in runs scored, which would be solid enough for a team that plays half of their games in the Safe. It gets even better though, because they still are 3-4 games behind most of the rest of the league. At 5.22 runs per game they are 4th in the AL, trailing only Detroit, the Yankees and Cleveland. Last year we finished 13th in the AL at 4.66 runs per game. We are on pace to score about 100 more runs than last year. Nice.

The M's, like the Angels, are heavily batting average driven. They are 2nd in the AL at .286. They don't walk much, in fact they are have the fewest walks in the league (even on a per game basis), but the high BA is keeping their OBP at a respectable 6th place. They don't hit for much power either, being 6th in the AL in SLG, but again that number, like their OBP is helped by that high batting average. In terms of Isolated power, which separates SLG from Avg, they rank just 9th.

They are not running as much as last year, so the offense is largely dependent on high batting averages and just enough power to keep things moving. Whether an average driven offense is sustainable is an open question, but this is a positive post, so lets just say, woo singles! Keep hitting em boys!

Who are the surprises amongst the offensive players?

Kenji Johjima is a 31 year old catcher who set career highs in games played, innings caught and I'm sure miles travelled last year. I would have been pleasantly surprised to only have a slight falloff from last year's 291/332/451. Instead he is tearing the cover off the ball at 328/355/525. This more in line with the player he was in Japan, so whether he's more comfortable in the US this year or eating more Wheaties or whatever, he's been a godsend. By Baseball Prospectus' VORP stat, he's the third best catcher in the AL. Woot.

I have written in this space many times that Ichiro needs to hit 330 to be a truly elite player. Well he's at 336/392/448 and looking awesome in centerfield. The list of best CF's in the game has his name and Grady Sizemore's on it. That's it.

The Double Play Twins kind of symbolize the M's offense. YuBet is the 7 best SS by VORP, which again is pretty good for a kid known for his D, playing in a pretty extreme pitchers park, but he's very dependent on his batting average. At .301 he's 6th among AL shorts. Lopez is somewhere between the All-star he was the first half of last year and the out machine he was the second half. He's the 7th best second sacker in the league and thats good enough for now.

Jose Guillen was looking really good two weeks ago, but he has struggled in June. Overall he is hitting 263/333/421. Thats only 9th among AL rightfielders, but certainly better than the horror show that he was last year.

As for the rest of the offense, Beltre is Beltre. He's the 6th or 7th best offensive 3b in the league, but he has yet to hit one of his patented two week stretches where he carries the team. Ibanez has managed to keep his average and OBP respectable while punting almost all of his power (He's slugging .397!). Vidro has been a singles machine, not enough to be truly valuable, but not the giant sucking vortex of outs we imagined him to be. Sexson has been one of the worst first basemen in the league, even after his recent surge.

So that's the M's offense. Highly dependent on a high batting average, carried by two guys hitting the crap out of the ball and 3 guys in the upper half of the league. You also got 3 guys who aren't killing you and a first baseman who is REAL TALL. There is real reason for optimism here too, because while Kenji and Yuni might regress some in the next 2/3 of the season, Lopez, Ibanez, and Sexson could all easily improve. Ichiro is likely to continue being Ichiro, which is awesome.

We'll talk about the pitching next post, but if they keep hitting like this, this club might be better than I thought.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

...and Matt Mangini

With the supplemental round pick at #52 overall, the M's have selected Oklahoma State 3B Matt Mangini. He rocked the Cape last summer (a wood bat league where he won the batting title), but had a disappointing year in college this year, so his stock had slipped considerably. He's a lefty who is big (6'4"), and who scouts think should develop power. That's right, M's fans. Left-handed sock.

I can't quibble too much with this pick; we could use a project at 3B, and Mangini is intriguing due to his success with wood against high-level competition.

Welcome Phillippe Aumont!

An excellent pick by the Mariners' brass at 11 overall, young Mr. Aumont resembles nothing so much as a right-handed Randy Johnson. Here's to a quick signing and rapid development (injury free!) of our newest draft pick.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Giddy? Up.

It merits comment that the M's have now won four straight and are five games over .500.


The big question, of course, is this: "is this for real?"

Well, the offense certainly seems to be. The Mariners are fifth in the AL in runs scored/game, roughly 8% better than the league average of 4.82. Kenji Johjima, Ichiro!, Jose Guillen, Adrian Beltre, and bench players Ben Broussard and Jamie Burke are all contributing to that pace, while Jose Lopez and Yuniesky Betancourt are not hurting the team. That's a solid offense, and this far into the season, it looks a lot more real than it might have in April.

Consequently, despite the collapse of Raul Ibanez and Big Sexy, and the futility that is Jose Vidro, Seattle's offense could genuinely expect to contend in a weak AL West.

Meanwhile, the pitching continues to be the question mark. This has been true...ever since we started this blog, and throughout Bill Bavasi's tenure. Seattle's pitching staff as a whole has allowed the fifth-most runs/game of any team in the AL. That's bad. Indeed, it's like the pitchers are giving back everything that the offense takes, leaving the team as a slightly above .500 ballclub. We've scored 287 runs while allowing only 273, so our 30-25 record is right about where we should be.

Whoa! So even if the slumping Sexson fails to recover; even if Rauuuuul can't defeat age or his mystery shoulder injury; even if our DH is Jose Vidro rather than a real MLB starter; and even if we keep throwing awful starters at least 60% of the time--even if all these things continue to be true--then this club looks like it should achieve a .500 record?! Or better???!

I'm astonished. I'll take back one or two of the mean things I've said thus far this season.

Before the season, I was convinced that the offseason insanity had positioned the Mariners to OWN last place, again. Happily, the Rangers suck, so that brought the discussion to third place, but still.

Next question: what can we achieve? Seattle stands 5.5 games behind the Angels, who sport the second-best pitching staff in the AL plus league-average run scoring. Can we hope to catch them, fend off the Rangers, and sneak into the playoffs in 2007? is rather pessimistic about the M's chances: despite the current standings, we are given only a 12.4% chance to take the division, while the A's have a 22.1% chance. This projection is based solely on the 2007 runs scored/allowed figures, simulated over millions of actual remainders of the season. This mechanical method of prediction cannot account for lineup changes, injuries, trades, hot streaks, etc., but it does suggest that there remains the fundamental problem with the team as a contender: our pitching rotation sucks (hey, I think we've mentioned that once or twice on the blog this year).

So to remain in contention, Bill Bavasi must come up with a better starting rotation. After the King (who's having his own difficulties, not least of which is the herd of Perfectly Normal Beasts continually running right through his domain) and the rejuvenated (juvenated?) Jarrod Washburn, we have diddly squat. The way they've performed so far, Batista/HoRam/BadWeaver/Baek/cast of thousands couldn't win in AAA.

There are two ways to improve the pitching staff. One is to get better pitchers to replace the horrible ones we have. (This involves trading, and Mr. Bavasi has shown little aptitude for that. Let's just not go there.) The other would be to magically transform some of our awful pitchers into major-league quality starters.

There is, ahhh, SOME hope that this second course of action might work. I mean, Batista's 5.43 ERA has to come down, right? His FIP is 4.46, right in line with his 2006 season, in which he posted a 4.58 ERA. He's not walking more, nor striking out less, batters than his recent seasonal rates suggest he should. He COULD be a real #3 starter for this team.

Now, the final two rotation slots are pretty much hopeless. You've all SEEN Ramirez and Weaver pitch. Baek and Feierabend are young and therefore we imagine that they have "upside," but these are not exactly staff saviors (yet) either.

So as giddy as I am about our exciting come-from-behind wins, our place in the standings, and the generally surprisingly good outcome through 5 June, I still harbor this lurking fear that the M's really don't stand much of a chance. Say the King and Batista both improve significantly. That leaves 40% of our remaining games to be started by AAA pitchers. Or Jeff Weaver. Ugh.

Aside from shifting to a 3-man starting rotation, I don't see how we can rest the full weight of our playoff hopes on the Teal and Northwest Green just yet.

Still, we're in a lot better position than I ever expected us to this season. Go M's!