Turning of the tides for dismal Mariners

One team's plummet

August 02, 2008|By Dan Connolly | Dan Connolly,Sun reporter

In late April, when the Orioles last made the cross-country trip to Seattle, the Mariners were 10-10 and trying to find their way in a young season.

Last night, when the Orioles began their second three-game series at Safeco Field, the Mariners were the worst team in the American League. Barring a collapse by another team, they will stay that way.

A chic preseason pick to go to the World Series, Seattle hasn't been above .500 since it beat the Orioles in the first game of that series, April 22.

The Mariners dropped their next two, triggering a skid during which they lost 17 of 22 and spurred a housecleaning that claimed their manager, general manager, hitting coach, starting right fielder and starting first baseman.

It has been a dizzying descent from preseason contender with a $118 million payroll to rebuilding mess in just three months. Starting play yesterday, the Mariners (41-67) were 27 games out of first place in the AL West, the biggest gap in the majors.

"It's kind of shocking," said Orioles All-Star closer George Sherrill, who played in Seattle from 2004 to 2007. "It looked like everything was pushing that way [toward the playoffs]. We were getting a little bit better, everybody was starting to get used to each other, the pieces we plugged in were working, and then, all of a sudden, they make that trade."

"That trade" with the Orioles contributed to the demise of the 2008 Mariners - perhaps psychologically more than on the field. In February, Seattle general manager Bill Bavasi traded Sherrill, center fielder Adam Jones and three pitching prospects for Orioles ace Erik Bedard, a 13-game winner in 2007. At the time, Sherrill was a solid setup man and Jones a high-ceiling reserve outfielder.

But Bedard (6-4, 3.67 ERA) hasn't measured up to the hype. Limited by injuries and currently on the disabled list with a sore shoulder, he has pitched just 81 innings in 15 starts.

Bedard is one of myriad disappointments for the Mariners. Just about every facet of the club has deteriorated from its 88-win season in 2007.

Heading into last night, the Mariners had scored the fewest runs of any AL team and had surrendered more than all but four. They were ranked 11th in hitting, ninth in ERA and 11th in fielding percentage among the 14 teams.

The season started ominously. With a palpable buzz in the air on Opening Day at Safeco Field, Bedard pitched well enough, and Seattle won. But Bedard lasted just five innings.

The next day, closer J.J. Putz felt pain in his right side after blowing a save. He was placed on the disabled list with cartilage inflammation and missed three weeks. It was a tough blow because his top 2007 setup man, Sherrill, was in Baltimore. And his heir apparent, Brandon Morrow, was in the minors after a rough spring.

Seattle pieced together a bullpen, but it was an omen. Putz, who had 40 saves as a 2007 All-Star, later missed five weeks with an elbow injury. He has just seven saves this year.

Heading into April, this was supposed to be a contender. It unraveled quickly, without warning.

"I've thought about it a million times," McLaren said after he was fired. "I didn't see it in spring training. I didn't see a red flag. We got blindsided by what happened to us."

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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