All's not lost; Mariners still have a few things to prove
And so 44 games remain in this most dismaying of Mariners seasons — roughly one quarter of the year to play out the string and await...
Seattle Times baseball reporter
Mariners next five games
Today | @ L.A. Angels, 7:05 p.m., FSN | M's LH Washburn (5-11, 4.76) vs. RH Garland
Wed. | @ L.A. Angels, 7:05 p.m., FSN | M's RH Hernandez
(7-7, 2.94) vs. RH Santana
Friday | @ Minnesota, 5:10 p.m., FSN | M's RH Silva
(4-13, 5.93) vs. LH Liriano
Saturday | @ Minnesota, 12:55 p.m., Ch. 13 | M's LH Rowland-Smith (2-1, 3.71)
vs. RH Baker (7-3, 3.78)
Sunday | @ Minnesota, 11:10 a.m., FSN | M's RH Dickey
(3-7, 4.90) vs. LH Perkins
And so 44 games remain in this most dismaying of Mariners seasons — roughly one quarter of the year to play out the string and await the massive organizational restructuring that lies ahead.
For a team so hopelessly out of contention — an almost unfathomable 29 ½ games behind the Angels heading into today's opener of a two-game series in Anaheim — the real challenge is to find something to play for down the stretch.
Certainly, there are the simple matters of pride and professionalism, which should go without saying. But pitcher Carlos Silva on Friday called into question the motivation of a portion of his teammates, accusing some of them — "maybe half" — of playing only to pad their statistics.
That rant didn't go over well with manager Jim Riggleman, who thought Silva should have expressed those opinions privately. That opinion was shared by team elder Raul Ibanez, whose performance has been exemplary of late (.337, seven homers, 24 runs batted in since the All-Star break).
"You know what I disagree with? If you do feel that way, saying it publicly," Ibanez said Sunday. "I disagree with that."
Asked if he agreed with Silva's basic premise, Ibanez said, "There's no way of telling. How do you tell if a guy is playing for himself? I don't think that's a fair comment, to be honest. I just don't see that. And if I did see it, I wouldn't tell you. If I had a problem with someone, I'd walk up and tell him. That's how I'd approach it."
One time-honored motivation for players in the Mariners' circumstance is the so-called "spoilers" role — ruining things for teams that are in contention.
The M's were an annoyance to the Twins on the most recent homestand, knocking them out of first place by taking two of three, before dropping three of four to another first-place team, the Tampa Bay Rays.
On their upcoming eight-game trip, they face only teams contending for the playoffs: the insurmountable Angels, plus Minnesota again and the White Sox.
"You do find yourself feeding off the energy other teams bring," Ibanez said. "It's nice to play teams that are in contention, because they bring that energy, and I think it elevates your game."
That doesn't seem to be a universal outcome, however, with the Mariners, who are 8-15 since the break. They are coming off an ugly 11-3 loss to Tampa Bay, after which Riggleman said, "It didn't even look like we belonged on the same field."
Riggleman is trying to keep this season from disintegrating even further in the wake of Silva's comments and his mid-game benching Sunday of second baseman Jose Lopez.
Riggleman obviously wants to persuade the Mariners to remove the "interim" tag from his name. So far, he has handled himself well, and done an impressive job of putting his imprint on the team.
But like his predecessor, the fired John McLaren, Riggleman might be ultimately powerless against the larger forces at work — namely, a dysfunctional team with several glaring holes that invariably manifest themselves at the worst possible time.
Riggleman continues to praise the Mariners' effort, even in the aftermath of Silva's comments. But it is clear that the results are starting to frustrate him.
"Hopefully, whether it's consciously or subconsciously, it does sink into them that every game we've played, I think the other team has said, 'Man, we have our hands full with that other group over there,' " he said before Sunday's debacle.
"That's kind of looking for the silver lining, I guess. We have to take pride in the fact we're battling, but we just have to get over the hump and start winning more of those games."
Numerous players, meanwhile, will be trying to cement their spot on next year's roster as the season winds down — although with the status of both the manager and general manager up in the air, it's not clear who they should be trying to impress.
That includes rookies like Bryan LaHair, Jeff Clement and Wladimir Balentien, and others still trying to make their name, like Jeremy Reed and R.A. Dickey.
For some, like Kenji Johjima, Silva and Miguel Batista, it's a matter of figuring out where this season went so horribly off-track, and trying to end on a more upbeat note.
Yuniesky Betancourt, who has regressed markedly this season, needs to show that he understands that fact and is willing to take the steps to put his career back on track.
J.J. Putz needs to show that his arm is healthy and he'll be ready to resume his dominating closer's role. That would free Brandon Morrow to move to the rotation — another drama still to play out in August and September.
That's any number of factors to keep the Mariners' season interesting down the stretch. But to Ibanez, it still comes down to one overriding factor.
"You play for pride," he said. "You play to win, no matter what's going on. You play the game the same way whether you're in first place or last place, whether you're playing for that last spot in the wild card, or 25 [games] out.
"It's easier said than done, but it's necessary. As a professional, it's necessary. It's what you're supposed to do. Regardless of what's going on around you, you have to ignore the circumstances and get after it. That's my take: There's always something to play for."
The Mariners have six weeks to show how they're going to play out a lost-cause season.
For the record
vs. AL West: 13-19
vs. L.A.: 3-6
vs. Oakland: 4-5
vs. Texas: 6-8
vs. AL East: 13-28
vs. AL Cent.: 10-17
vs. NL: 9-9
vs. LHP: 12-22
vs. RHP: 33-51
Extra inn.: 2-7
Sunday's crowd: 30,336
Season total: 1,817,584
Biggest crowd: 46,334 (March 31)
Smallest crowd: 15,818 (May 6)
Average (62 dates): 29,316
2007 average (62 dates): 32,897
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