36-58, Game Thought

Losers of 14 of their last 17 games, the Mariners sit 11 back of third place, 19 back of first, and just 5.5 ahead of Baltimore for the worst record in baseball. Things are bad, and now they've gotten spectacularly so, as the losses are piling up in frequency and predictability. This does feel a lot like 2008. On a day-to-day basis, these days I'm approaching the 2010 season the way I approached the 2008 season. Some things are different, of course - some important things, things for which I'm thankful - but far too many things are the same for me to deny the similarities. We're doing it again. There's a little more hope this time than the last time around, but in terms of on-field play, the Mariners are doing it again.

We've now reached the point in the year where all the fans are fed up, and selective criticisms that were once directed at specific underperformers like Chone Figgins and Jose Lopez now blend together into generic critiques against the whole team. The Mariners can't hit. The Mariners can't hold leads. The Mariners can't win. The Mariners can't do this, and the Mariners don't do that.

Which is all well and good, because truth be told there is a very long list of things the Mariners can't or don't do, and fans are entitled to be upset. We're all upset. This is a nightmare, and the team is showing no signs of pulling itself out and somehow salvaging what's left of this interminable poop cruise. There is, though, just one critique - one common, inevitable critique - that I'd like to nip in the bud. And that's the critique that a losing team has given up and stopped trying.

You'll hear it pretty often. You'll hear it after mistakes like Milton Bradley getting caught off first base tonight. You'll hear it after other things. You'll hear accusations that the Mariners are just mailing it in, now that everyone realizes their season is toast. You'll hear people declare that there's no reason for them to pay to go to games anymore when even the players themselves have long since stopped giving a shit.

I'm fine with a lot of critiques. I like a fanbase that doesn't lose its passion. This is just one that I can't get behind. There are certain situations where it might apply. Certain other situations, with other teams in other cities. But I don't see it here.

Think about it yourself and you'll understand why, with these Mariners, it doesn't really make sense. Who are these players who would be giving up? Milton Bradley, who continues to undergo counseling for putting too much pressure on himself to produce? Chone Figgins, who's had to prove himself at every single stop along the way and is among the proudest players in the game? Ichiro, who's hit .323 for his career in September while making the playoffs just once, and who broke the all-time hit record in a season like 2004?

Justin Smoak, the rookie who's looking to adjust and establish himself in the Major Leagues? Michael Saunders, the second-year prospect who's looking to adjust and establish himself in the Major Leagues? Casey Kotchman, who has to perform if he wants to land a job after this one? Rob Johnson, one of the hardest workers on the team who wants to prove he can withstand the rigors of a full season? Jack Wilson, who's grown so frustrated with his struggles and injuries that he's thought about retiring? Josh Wilson, who wants to break through and stop being everybody's 26th man?

Josh Bard, who's narrowly clinging to a Major League career and can hardly afford to slip up? Franklin Gutierrez, who's being looked to as a team leader? Russell Branyan, who's worked his ass off for the kind of opportunity the Mariners have given him? Jose Lopez, who...I don't really know, but if Jose Lopez started mailing it in, would we notice?

What about the pitchers? Can you imagine Felix Hernandez taking so little pride in his efforts? Can you imagine Ryan Rowland-Smith giving up and endangering the rest of his career? Can you imagine Jason Vargas or Doug Fister taking these hard-earned opportunities for granted? What about the rest of the staff, made up in large part of journeymen or off-the-radar arms? How many of them do you think would give up, and how many of them do you think are just cherishing every single day they spend in the big leagues?

This team will lose, and this team will lose ugly. When it loses ugly, this team will make a lot of stupid mistakes. But giving up? Phoning it in? Going through the motions? I've never liked the idea, and I don't like it now. Not on a team-wide basis, not as some kind of pervasive malady. I just don't get it. Nevermind that all of the players in the clubhouse are professionals. Each of them, individually, has worked far too hard to get to where he is to just throw it all away because things aren't going well.

I do think players may lose focus from time to time. They may lose focus a little more often than they would were the season going better. That's just the kind of thing you have to expect, given how difficult it is to maintain constant concentration when the games lose their greater significance. You'll see a missed sign, or a bad angle, or a missed cutoff man, or whatever. Some players may, on occasion, not prepare as well for the next game as you'd like. But there's a difference between making the odd careless mistake and just going through the motions. Every team makes careless mistakes. Contending teams make careless mistakes. Careless mistakes look bad to the naked eye, but they don't always signify some crippling bigger problem.

Chone Figgins made a couple rangey, diving plays to his right on groundballs today. Balls that, if they got through, I would've understood. Franklin Gutierrez dived a couple times - I think on consecutive plays - and came up with a catch. The Mariners aren't mailing it in. The Mariners aren't losing because they've given up. The Mariners are losing because they're bad. Fans of bad teams often like to believe there's something sinister at play, but the truth is that bad teams just do bad things, often absent any bigger issue. Being bad is big enough.

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