For a while, now - even with the team playing terrible baseball - I think every single one of us has been holding on to a faint glimmer of hope. Just the slightest little bit, even while conceding that the season is almost assuredly over. "It's too early to give up on the guys," we tell ourselves. "Still plenty of time to stage a comeback. Besides, if they start playing up to their expectations, they could turn this race around in a hurry. 1-2 punch, right?"
Right. In theory. If tomorrow this team suddenly started playing like the front office assumed it would out of the gate, then they'd still stand a half-decent chance of going somewhere, huge gap and all. For a team as good as Bavasi, McLaren, and a handful of fans thought had been assembled back in March, no mid-May standings would be too unsightly to overcome.
But here's the problem with that: what people believed in Spring Training doesn't mean that much anymore.
Certain things that people were banking on a few months ago have been...well I won't say they've been proven incorrect, since I don't want Tango and MGL jumping all over me for reading too deeply into early-season performance, but certain things have not gone as expected, and as such, they're forcing us to reconsider the reality. And in so doing, we have to let go of the idea of this team starting to play like the executives thought it was supposed to, because the new information we've gleaned from the games has lowered the true talent level of the roster by a pretty fair margin.
For the team to henceforth start playing like the pitching-heavy contender as which it was billed, it would have to meet those springtime expectations set by management and the coaching staff. Bedard would have to pitch like an ace. Felix would have to pitch like an ace. Silva would have to pitch like a #2/#3. The bullpen would have to protect late leads. The defense would have to help guys like Silva and Washburn turn balls in play into outs. Ichiro would have to hit at a high clip. Sexson would have to rebound. Ibanez would have to keep things up. And the supporting cast would have to pick up enough slack to keep this offense consistent and moderately productive.
A few months ago, all of these sounded at least somewhat reasonable. Obviously, few of us around here believed they'd all come true, but my point is that, at the very least, a case could be made for each and every one of them. And that meant that, under those circumstances, this team stood a decent chance of contending for the crown.
But now we have new information. New information that, had we known it back in March, would've left us a great deal more bearish regarding the team's chances of getting anywhere. Bedard has regressed and carries injury concerns. Felix is inconsistent. Silva's a pumpkin who's shown no magical newfound ability to retire left-handed hitters. The bullpen's struggled to throw strikes, devastated by JJ's absence. The defense seems to have only gotten worse. Ichiro hasn't been anywhere close to last year's unsustainable .351. There's no indication that Sexson's anything but toast. And the supporting cast has been a disaster, with Beltre being the only guy to demonstrate any semi-consistent ability to get on base. On the offensive side, only three players have managed to perform as expected. Everybody else - for reasons ranging from bad luck to presumed deadsville - has been a disappointment. And that's bad news for a team whose pitching staff hasn't held up its own end of the bargain.
This new information has limited value on its own, but when integrated with what we already knew before, it starts to change the picture. Take Sexson, for example. His community projection last winter came in at a full season of .247/.329/.457. Nothing great, but a significant rebound from his nightmare 2007. Most people thought he'd be able to recover at least a small portion of his losses. But what if we asked for another community projection? What do you think people would say about Sexson now? I guarantee you that the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction. Instead of expecting a bounceback, the majority of people are presumably now convinced that Sexson's just done as a hitter, and that his current line's about as good as it's going to get. So where, before the year, it seemed reasonable to think he'd rebound a little, now it seems far more likely that he won't, which takes a chunk out of those contending-team forecasts.
Do this for every data point. Look at what we thought, look at the new information that we have, and consider how it changes things. Needless to say, it changes things quite a bit. There's still a possibility of, say, Richie bouncing back, or the defense regressing way closer to the league average, but these possibilities are far less likely now than we thought they were two months ago, which renders those springtime projections as less of an objective exercise and more of an optimistic daydream.
To say that the Mariners could wake up tomorrow and start playing like a 90-win baseball team would be strange, but it wouldn't be impossible. Worse teams have ripped off crazier hot streaks. However, that glimmer of hope we've all had that this team could find its identity and play like the front office thought it would play...with all the new information we have about these guys, it just doesn't make sense anymore. Not that it necessarily ever did, but now it's become such a long shot that anyone still clinging to it I imagine I won't be able to take seriously. The odds are just that bad.
The Mariners aren't as bad as their record currently shows. They're not a 63-99 true talent team. But with that said, if there's anything we've learned from the first seven weeks of the season, it's that they're not a 90-72 true talent team, either. Far from it. This team isn't good, and while I cringe at being the guy responsible for throwing water on that last little spark of hope in your heart (if that spark can actually be extinguished, of which I'm not sure), I think it's the healthiest way. Only when you surrender can you finally find joy in a season so dire.
Biggest Contribution: Adrian Beltre, +7.3%
Biggest Suckfest: Carlos Silva, -35.3%
Most Important AB: Beltre homer, +10.1%
Most Important Pitch: Renteria triple, -15.8%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): -36.7%
Total Contribution by Hitters: -13.5%
Total Contribution by Opposition: +0.2%
(What is this chart?)