Don't forget to sign up for the LL/USSM events in Tacoma/Everett in early August.
As one final kind of half-year-in-review piece, I thought it'd be fun to reflect on the best things that've happened to this team since Opening Day. There's been a lot of good, but for the sake of brevity, I've narrowed it down to a Top Five list. Everybody loves Top Five lists. And away we go!
- The simultaneous development of Adam Jones and Wladimir Balentien. We knew they were talented before, but they've gone from projected ceilings as Mike Cameron and Juan Encarnacion to something more like Andruw Jones and Carlos Lee. They're both ready for the Majors Leagues right now, and present the Mariners with a delightful little problem to have. There've been lively debates over which to keep and which to trade, but the fact that these are even taking place represents something better than I ever could've expected.
- Seattle Times hires Geoff Baker. It would've been good enough to replace Bob Finnigan with a frowning jack-o'-lantern, but the Times did us all one better by going out and grabbing someone who's rapidly become my favorite non-Posnanski baseball writer in the mainstream media. It's not just his talent and accessibility (his blog is a constant source of solid information and opinion); it's also his drive. Baker's gone out of his way to become more familiar with statistical analysis where pretty much any other writer would've ignored what they didn't understand, and it's all in the name of being a better columnist. Geoff Baker rocks.
- Felix starts mixing his pitches. It would be easy to say I put this at #3 because it demonstrates the influence of the blogosphere, but that's not even what I'm going for. No, even if he'd done this entirely on his own, I'd still rank it third, because this is a huge step in Felix's development as a true ace and shutdown starter. Felix has a finite number of flaws, and over the past two weeks he's worked to eliminate the biggest one. Look out, world.
- Ichiro agrees to five-year extension. The best player the Mariners have had in a long long time isn't going anywhere after all, signing an extension in the middle of the most valuable season of his career. Some have theorized that this is because of anything from Mike Hargrove's resignation to Jason Ellison's having his back, but me, I think it's the winning. Ichiro could've darted off for another organization with a better track record, but the fact that he's agreed to this with the Mariners winning for the first time since 2003 tells me that he loves Seattle and never really wanted to leave in the first place. Thanks for staying, Ichiro. We'll try to get you your ring.
- The Mariners finish the first half 13 games over .500. Not even the craziest idiot would've thought that bad first baseman + horrible shortstop + mildly underachieving ace = 49-36 record. This team has been playing its best and most exciting baseball in years, to the point where adding one more piece could make it a legitimate contender. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I'd be this thoroughly happy with the Mariners in the middle of July. Yeah, they still have their problems, and there's no guarantee that things are going to work out like we hope they will, but that we're even in this position is more than I could've asked for. What a fun season it's been so far.