The Ruder Reality

Like it or not, Northwest sports revolve around the Mariners inthe spring.

With no Blazers, no Sonics, no Seahawks and no college football,the tide of Northwest sports rises and falls with the lovablecoffee-driven sailors to the North.

For five years we’ve been blessed with one of the mostcompetitive, well rounded teams in the majors and success hasresulted in contented fans and peaceful springs.

But this year the franchise has sprung a leak.

As the Mariners endure their worst start of the millennium,baseball pundits have uttered more throw-away one-liners condemningthem than the Bush administration has issued apologies. I canalmost see Coleridge rolling over in his grave as every baseballanalyst and fan cracks wise on the “ancient mariners.”

At 13-24 heading into Tuesday’s game, the Mariners are the proudowners of the fourth-worst record in baseball. A year ago at thistime they were 23-14, en route to finishing a mere two games out ofthe wild card. This year the Mariners are languishing in last placein the brutal American League West.

After finishing 2003 as the best pitching team in the majors,the young, much-hyped arms of the Mariners have sunk to the middleof the pack. The fourth best team at getting on-base in 2003 hasturned into the second worst, and the Mariners are gettingoutslugged by over 60 points whereas last year they outsluggedopponents by more than 20 points.

If you don’t know baseball stats, those are bad. Very bad.

With the exception of the Mariners’ dreadful broadcast team (whocould likely paint a pretty picture of the war in Iraq), everybodyseems to have a reason for the Mariners’ collapse.

Too old.
Cheap ownership.
Bob Melvin sucks.
The defense isn’t good anymore.
Mariner mascot Moose is out of shape.

A recent Oregonian article even suggested it was just badluck.

Believe what you will but here are the facts.

The Mariners are the only team with three players over 40 yearsold and have the oldest average age in the majors.

Ownership’s reluctance to spend meant the Mariners missed out onMiguel Tejada and ended up being forced to overpay Rich Aurilia tofill a hole.

Bob Melvin doesn’t suck.

The defense is the best in the majors percentage-wise (.990), abetter percentage than last year’s Mariners team that had the bestpercentage in baseball (.989).

Moose has lost 100 lbs. on the Subway diet.

This year’s Mariners are 5-7 in one-run games, whereas lastyear’s team was 7-1 at this point in one run games.

Last year’s team won three one-run games in a row in April,whereas this year’s team is currently mired in a stretch where ithas lost five of seven one-run games.

That said, there are some reasons to think they might be able tosalvage the ship.

Last year’s world champion Marlins started out theirchampionship campaign 17-20 and got more cold, dead fish jokes thanKevin Costner did for “Waterworld.”

In addition, the number of close games they’ve played and theplayers’ track records suggest they can’t be this bad for theentire year.

That said, can they catch a favorable wind and sail back intothe race or are they bound for a watery grave?

Based on the strength of their division and the overall strengthof the American League I’d put their chances right up there withanother famous mariner, a guy by the name of Ahab.