Mariners open game thread – 04/11/2014

Happy Felix day everybody.

For the first time this season, Felix Hernandez takes the mound at Safeco against the fucking A’s and Tommy Millone.

As it is Felix’s first game of the season, a special “Supreme Court” crowd has been marshalled. I myself will be in attendance, clad in a golden t-shirt trading the deed to my car for 3 Coors Light aluminum bottles. You know, the ones that are so fucking cold that you have to pry your frostbitten tongue out of the top like you were just performing cunnilingus on the White Witch from The Chronicles of Narnia .

Nightmare-zone

Felix has been absolutely dominant since giving up that dinger to Trout on opening night. He struck out 11 Angels in that outing. In his subsequent outing he proceeded in steamrolling the A’s to the cacophonous tune of what sounded suspiciously like a rape-whistle giveaway night, which, even if an accident speaks volumes to the differences between our two fair cities. Macklemore bobblehead night, here we come.

 

Mlb.com preview here.

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Ode to the Old, Unheralded and Ollie

“Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.” –John Wooden

 

“Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

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At the start of any pick-up game, there’s a certain deference afforded to the most grizzled and greyed ballers. Cut from years of asphalt-pounding and hardwood-hounding, he purports himself with a Zen-like ease. His aura is easy to spot. He’s usually sporting a now-irrelevant pop culture shirt—cutoffs—that outdates half the players on the court, a model of Converse sneakers no longer in production and always multiple braces on any assortment of joints.

(This one’s for him.)

During warm-up shots, no one imagines that he could ever be the best player on the court. Still, everyone remains wary. As if the force of his sheer age had already bent the outcome of the games in his favor.

Naturally, as games wear on, roles are extemporaneously defined. Cream rises. Mediocrity sinks. He—neither oil nor water—buoys. Et cetera, et cetera.

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In the current era of analytics-driven free agent and rookie signings, one of Sam Presti’s most important moves for the Oklahoma City Supersonics was signing then 36 year old veteran point guard Kevin Ollie. Yes, that Kevin Ollie.

That Kevin Ollie who spent the first two years of his professional basketball career in the CBA. That Kevin Ollie who bounced around 12 teams in 13 seasons. That Kevin Ollie who averaged an unimpressive 3.8 points and 2.3 assists in 15.6 minutes per game over the course of his illustrious career. That Kevin Ollie that coached his ass off and led his Hungry Huskies on a historic NCAA title run this past Monday over Sith Coach Calipari and his Wistful Wildcats.

Few have led as storied and unheralded a career as Kevin Ollie. From side-kick status and obscurity, Ollie has ascended, seemingly meteorically, to the highest order of the basketball universe. How did a point guard who could have easily never made it to the NBA—whose greatest asset was due entirely to his longevity—arrive at the pinnacle of pro sports?

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Experience wins. Not just games but titles. It is the reason San Antonio came a Jesus Shuttlesworth dagger away from winning it all last year. Dallas beat the Heat in 2011 because of it. And though their playoff run was underwhelming, the oldest team in NBA history (32.7) posted a 54-win season last year.

Look at the six oldest teams in the NBA at the start of the season (per HispanosNBA):

ages2

Each of these teams is making the playoffs. Even more telling, all of these teams are either contenders or very undesirable matchups. Their tenacity, teamwork and willingness to help defend cover up what weaknesses they do have. With the exception of Brooklyn (which, as a team, has had the least amount of time to gel), all have established cultures of expectations—each a variation on the sum being greater than their parts.

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It’s probably a little misguided to lay the Oklahoma City Supersonics’ success entirely at Ollie’s feet. It probably has more to do with The Other Kevin’s ridiculous 32 points per game average this season, or Russell Westbrook’s improbable transformation from UCLA backup to a top-10 NBA player on both sides of the court.

Still, in an interview with Bill Simmons back in February, Kevin Durant cited Ollie’s influence as laying the foundation for his and the OKC Supersonics’ success (it should also be noted that that the 1 year Ollie spent with OKC was the first year KD made it to the playoffs…):

“[Kevin Ollie] was a game-changer for us. He changed the whole culture, I think. He might not say it, but he changed the whole culture in Oklahoma City. Just his mind-set, his professionalism, every single day. And we all watched that and we wanted to be like that. It rubbed off on Russell, myself, Jeff Green, James Harden — and everyone that comes through now, that’s the standard you got to live up to, as a Thunder player, and it all started with Kevin Ollie.”

 

It all started with Kevin Ollie.

Ollie made it to the Elite 8 in 1995 and became a Sonic great with Ray Allen in 2003. He made it to the 2001 NBA Finals alongside, and later was playoff-stymied with Allen Iverson. In 2003, the Cleveland Curseliers signed Ollie to his first major contract—nearly $2.5 million (per Basketball-Reference.com)—for the expressed purpose of teaching newly-minted rookie Lebron James how to be a professional. Add Andre Iguodala’s first few seasons with the 76ers and a year with Kevin Love in Minnesota before his swan song with Durant, Westbrook, Harden and Serge Ibaka, and suddenly you have Ollie intersecting with 9 of the 20-25 best players in the last two decades—mostly in the formative years of their careers.

No basketball head can say it with a straight face. Kevin Durant alluded to it. But Kevin Ollie just might be one the most influential basketball players of the past 20 years.

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While the everyday fan might not see it, the GMs and coaches in the NBA recognize the value of veteran leadership. Code words: glue guys, an important voice and (my personal favorite) locker room presence.

This year’s trade deadline was roundly seen as uninspired. It was.

Lost in the fury of the silence though were important moves by the Washington Wizards and the Golden State Warriors to snag Andre Miller and Steve Blake, respectively. Miller is 38. Blake is 34. Look at the winning percentage disparities before and after the trades were made:

ode to the old_was gs pre post trade

Both teams certainly needed to bolster their benches and upgrade their unfortunate backup point guard situation. Miller and Blake solve those problems. They aren’t household names by any stretch of the imagination, but both are savvy, play within themselves, aren’t matadors on defense and manage games exceptionally well. Most importantly, their locker room presence will provide stability to two young teams come playoff time.

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Old man game it’s called. Old man game is not age specific. Old man game is not spectacular. Old man game doesn’t even require any real athleticism. Old man game relies on court awareness, aims to minimize mental lapses and takes nothing off the table. Though practitioners of the old man game excel at nothing, they have the most coveted of skills in all the sports realms—the intangibles.

Sure they might try hard, pass the ball well, have good hand-eye coordination or even shoot the midrange jumper at a shockingly high percentage, but the precise source of his knack for basketball is undefined. If anything, it is the irregular confluence of that player’s unique skills—or lack thereof.

Basketball is a continuum of interdependent events with each player’s actions and reactions—a screen, a cut, staying out in the corner—affecting floor-spacing and the way opponents defend. The old, the unheralded, Kevin Ollie and others like him know that each possession is an unfolding of those events and know how to define and exist within their role as actors within each event. Perhaps most critically, they understand that the manipulation of those events happen on a plane far above the hardwood.

The Location of Optimism in Relation to Bad Things. Mariners.

In light of what has been a hot or at the very least not tepid or cold start to the season, Mariners fans have been given a rare opportunity to opine positively about the team’s future. Safeco sold out its home opener, the young hitters look to be figuring it out, the pitching has been largely great, and Robbie Cano is batting around .400.

For the young, the exuberant, the uninitiated; the dawn of the Mariner’s bright future seems to be peeking over the horizon. Yet, for those of us who have lived and died* with the Mariners over the past decade or so, it is hard to yield to optimism in the face of the inescapable sense of impending doom that we have been trained, in a Pavlovian fashion, to expect year in and year out.

Yet, even tempered with the pessimistic expectation of catastrophic regression, it is hard to not get wrapped up in the excitement of this young Mariners team that has, objectively, been playing good baseball. Further, it is hard not to extrapolate this excitement into optimism given that the Mariners young, volatile team is in fact capable of sustaining this level of play. They are. Really. They simply haven’t done it yet. All prospects sans Trout experience bumps in the road like this. These young players have had their bright futures dimmed and their confidence tested. Is it so hard to imagine that, having slogged through brief successes and dismal failures over the past 3 years, that these guys may have emerged on the other side as productive major leaguers just entering their prime years?

I like to think the thesis implying that the Mariners most recent wave of prospects simply were not as good as expected is an incorrect one.

Perhaps instead, the more accurate thesis is that these prospects were held under a microscope as a result of the teams’ failure and were put in a position where their growing pains would translate to a larger organizational pain given a lack of other options.

While other teams could suffer through a prospect learning on the job, the Mariners simply fielded too many prospects with too many simultaneous growing pains to experience anything less than an Operation-esque red buzzer firing off like a police siren for the better part of a decade.

I want to think that this is the case. I want to think this because I love this team.

I love watching Abraham Almonte sprint around like a raver in her PLUR-throes.

I love watching Dustin Ackley’s cold lifeless eyes as he drills a fastball on the outside corner for a double.

I love imagining what sort of wildlife could eek out a comfortable existence in Ackley’s beard.

I even like watching Logan Morrison continuously commit public relations suicide on twitter.

I want want want to allow the good feelings of this early season stretch to exist on some separate plane of existence than the Mariners teams I have watched in the past. I want to do this because I know that I have been able to successfully delude myself into thinking this team could be good within the past decade. This has always seemed a disappointing fiction and one revealed as such very early in the season.

Imagine a whitecap in your mind. The individual parts are themselves volatile, chaotic, and without uniform purpose or motion when examined too closely as individual strains, strands of water spread out into drops before crashing down again, frothing back into the greater whole. Despite this relative lack of cohesion, when your mind’s eye then zooms back to the holistic picture, one sees that despite the individual chaos, volatility and seeming lack of direction, there is in fact a cohesive forward momentum. This momentum exists separately and outside of the individual strands of water within the larger whitecap, and yet governs those strand’s forward motion and is, in a sense, comprised of them. It is not the individual motion of the edge (the thing that governs the frothiness of the whitecap) that governs its motion. It is instead the underlying swell that sustains forward momentum despite the uncertainty of the individual parts.

I am proposing that we think of this Mariners team and our fandom in this way.  We are all riding along with this whitecap. In the duration we spend at the edge of it, we shouldn’t even necessarily know that we are whitecaps to begin with. It is only after we have already broken and receded back into the massive blue expanse of mediocrity ever splashing at our heels that we realize the ebullient feeling of whitecap-ness was something transient. But transience does not imply that an experience is fictive.

This team is exciting now. The game is exciting to watch now. And if we can direct our eyes forward or even at our own feet we can avoid becoming estranged to the joy of the present moment. The Mariners were good last week. The Mariners are good today. The Mariners might suck endlessly every day for the rest of the year. If anything, doesn’t that provide an even greater impetus to enjoy these moments while they last?

It’s not a matter of the Mariners winning games in the future. It’s a matter of the Mariners having won games. This stretch of competence could end tomorrow. It wouldn’t be surprising if it did. That is the way things have gone in the past and this team probably isn’t improved enough to completely avoid negative regression.

Do not let that pessimistic stance govern your ability to enjoy this team. The Mariners are gifting us with good, winning, meaningful baseball. Appreciate it while it lasts–if not for the joy of being a fan then at least for the scarcity of these opportunities.

This has been a pretty sincere post. Since society has taught us to develop healthy aversions to any feelings or expressions of sincerity, this should be rectified.

Let’s play the LuckSwing drinking game! Take a shot every time you have to re-read a sentence. But wait! You have already read this entire post! Estimating is not allowed, so it looks like you better crack open a bottle of something cheap and start over! There are 57 sentences in this post by my count. Shit, now there are 59!!! If you existed, reader, you would be so drunk right now. Unhealthily so.

You should consider getting help!

*Mostly just died, over and over, in a kind of samsara-esque vortex of endless, purgatorial existence. Honestly, being a Mariners fan is about as good a validating analogue to Buddha’s notion of a cyclical existence of suffering as I have ever witnessed firsthand.

Planes, Smoakamotives and Tyrese Gibson: The Justin Smoak Story

I have a theory regarding semi-trucks. At the beginning of your life you are allotted a certain amount of time. This time represents how long you are allowed to drive, on a two lane highway, immediately next to a semi-truck. This time is never restored but is rather constantly depreciating every second you spend parallel to one of those fucking things.

It doesn’t matter exactly what that time is but it does not vary between individuals. For our purposes, let us assume that the time in question is 1 hour.

Every second counts as two if it is dark outside

Three, if it is snowing.

Four, if you have to sneeze.

Once your allotted time has expired you will die in a fiery explosion. Not a second will be wasted. The second this time is up you are good and thoroughly fucked. Paul Walker (in his films alone) spent a lot of time driving next to Semi-trucks and trucks that are so similar to semi-trucks that they totally count as semi-trucks.

Let his untimely demise be a reminder to us all. 2 fast. 2 furious. 2 soon. :'(

The conclusion: don’t try to cheat the system – just haul ass to get by those sheet-metal behemoths of death while wasting as little of your time as possible. It’s not a matter of where you are but WHEN you are. Starring Justin Timberlake and the guy from all of the Christopher Nolan movies.

Enter Justin Smoak. The Smoakamotive. Certainly a viable comparison to a semi-truck. Would you want to share the road with this?

What if I told you this guy was driving?

I bet Justin Smoak has never even driven a train. Is “drive” even the right word to associate with trains? Uncertainty abounds, change lanes or die.

Justin Smoak has managed to hang around the Mariner’s organization for what seems like an eternity. Prior to Smoak’s acquisition, things weren’t exactly good at the 1st base position, but at the very least it seemed like there was a reasonable threshold established that, if not reached, would result in change.

This kind of thinking is good. While I do not espouse a philosophy of constant tinkering and impatience, I also think it is reasonable for an organization to expect some modicum of improvement in its prospects or consistent production from veteran players to deserve a long-term investment.

Russell Branyan had a good run. He then stopped being good and he was subsequently replaced. Richie Sexson was able to go up and do his best “Joaquin Phoenix in Signs” impression for a couple years, after which the Mariners told him to GTFO. Justin Smoak however, has been given regular minutes at First Base for 4 years.

4.

4 years of Justin Smoak in all of his glory. He has not had a year with a WAR greater than 1.4 (last year’s total) and he is playing at a position where offense is not only expected but demanded. To top it off, he is a below average defensive player and runs the bases like Jesus Montero in a ballpit at Chuckie Cheese.

As evidence for this theory, the Mariners brought in Michael Morse last year. Michael Morse proceeded in being rather terrible and useless. Michael Morse is no longer a Mariner.

Think of it this way, Michael Morse took a shit on your bathroom floor and left, never to be seen again. Justin Smoak has been farting in your bed for weeks. He also probably snores.

To bring it back to baseball, Russel Branyan’s last year with the Mariners was substantially better than any of the years we have experienced with Smoak and he was not brought back. What is the difference?

Potential. But how do we quantify potential? We know that at one point in time somebody, somewhere, thought highly of Justin Smoak, the prospect. He was supposed to be a country-strong 1st base prospect with an above average hit tool expected to hit for 30HR power and get on base consistently.

We have seen proven, over the course of 4 years of ineptitude, that these scouting reports were either exaggerated or simply incorrect. Prospects don’t always pan out. The only notable aspect of Justin Smoak’s game (which I actually DO appreciate) is that he seems to be the only player in a Mariners uniform capable of taking a walk. Beyond that, he seems to have warning track power and is allergic to driving in runs. I spend about 90% of Justin Smoak at-bats yelling “Wind!” at fly balls to right-center. I then subsequently slump into my 8 dollar bleacher seat, broken and defeated.

Do you guys remember trader Jack? The GM who went around slanging every Bill Bavasi pick-up for 30 a kilo without a second thought? That GM seemed to have a concept of the threshold to which I referred earlier. It seemed as though mediocrity coupled with souring potential would not be enough to hold down a roster spot- you would be summarily shipped away.

What I didn’t realize at the time, and what I didn’t believe (despite my dad’s now seemingly-prophetic hectoring via SMS) was that Jack Z was simply supplanting the old regime with the new. What I had initially interpreted as a noble crusade to acquire real talent and ship off the failed experiments of the prior regime became a trial in new souring experiments that were acquired with his name on the receipt and clung to desperately despite the clear ill-effects. All I ask for is an objective evaluation of talent that has nothing to do with the pride and egoism of the man who made the initial investment.

Conclusion: it is bad to draw up a trade for a prospective talent that does not, in any way, pan out. It is substantially worse to cling desperately to that no-talent in an attempt to redeem the initial decision and save face.

When I look at Justin Smoak and the imagined “logjam” at first base that is all that I see. You cannot have a logjam at a position that does not produce for your team. The log in front of the other two logs is a sucky log. A sucky log with warning track power that throws massive chaws.

The best-case scenario for the Mariners this year is to play LoMo and Hart at first and DH. While neither is a sure thing, Hart has proven to be a good major league hitter capable of producing runs. Morrison at least has injuries to blame for his precipitous drop in production and I think taking him from the outfield for good will go a long way towards rectifying his health issues. Having the two of them split duties at first takes the pressure off either to run in the outfield on balky knees and gives the Mariners the opportunity to populate the outfield with players who can adequately defend the position. Give Romero a shot. Give Nick Franklin a shot in the OF- let him become our Ben Zobrist of the future.

There is no foreseeable future in which I wouldn’t rather see Nick Franklin in the lineup than Justin Smoak and his presence in the lineup does not have to come at the cost of Miller’s being benched. I want both of my goofy middle infielders in the lineup and I want Cano there too. It is for this purpose that I stalk the Tacoma Rainier’s lineup card on a daily basis, searching for that “RF” next to Nick Franklin’s name.

I have been hurt too many times by Smoak to buy in to his recent resurgence. That being said, there is nothing I would like more than to see him succeed. I love the Mariners and will always be happy when any Mariner performs well. That being said, I have been jerked around by Smoak too often to think that his solid start is anything but a fluke preceding a disastrous regression to mediocrity.

Prove me wrong, Smoaky.

In Defense of the Eastern Conference

In lieu of the playoff preview and predictions story that every other sports site is or will be doing, we at LuckSwing—er—Ball in Cup—er—Luck-Ball-In-Swinging-Cup cover the things we love most about each conference, and of course offer our modest playoff previews and predictions.

Doodoo. Stank. A heaping pile. Defecatum. As lost as an English major at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.

The symbolism is too much.That this was against Timmy D and the Spurs. The flailing gesture in the direction something positive. An apparent aspiration towards something transcendent, unglamorously deflating into a wet fart.

That is the  image of the Eastern Conference that NBA heads know all so well, and it’s a hard one to not laugh at.

The East’s continued flirtation with mediocrity is practically prehistoric. It’s well documented that the NBA Draft lottery is kind of a sham. There are detractors and defenders alike, but everyone can agree it’s a pretty good metric for measuring long stretches of bad to deplorable. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that since 1998, every no. 1 draft pick has gone to an Eastern Conference team except for three—Yao Ming in 2002, Greg Oden in 2007 and Blake Griffin in 2009—yet it’s a surprising stat.

It is not so much that the West is better—with three teams boasting better win percentages than the East’s best. It’s that the East is that much worse—their non-playoff teams have lost 59 more games than their Western counterparts with 34 games left to go for the paltry seven.

A deeper dive reveals the unnerving breadth and depth of the nightmare that is the East. Defensively it’s bad. Offensively it’s worse.

Two East teams top the opponent field goal % list, while not one ranks in the top 10 in points per game. Only one team cracks the top 10 in field goal percentage (though Brooklyn is tied with New Orleans for 10th), with three teams assisting and rebounding enough to make it up there.

All this is to underscore the East’s biggest problem: they’re just not that fun to watch. The East is a 2003 no. 1 draft pick away from being completely and totally unwatchable (it’s the surprise of my life that my Seattle Supersonics or the lowly Los Angeles Clippers did not snag The Chosen One. I cringe at the butterfly effect of possibilities.).

At least that’s what the haters say.

The East is for the nerds. The ball wonks. The shot chart readers. The sortable stat users. The die-hards. Not the glamour-seeking star-driven silver spoon-fed basketball watching of the West with their many lobs and heady offensive schemes. The East is for the weekend warriors who go home to three hours of NBA 2K14 as a primer to a night of flipping through NBA All-Access Pass. Those of us that love basketball. Purely. Fully. Unabashedly. Unhealthily. And at the risk of important human relationships.

We live for the Atlanta Hawks v. Washington Wizards.

Lebron v. Melo? Please. Give me Elton Brand v. Drew Gooden. These games warp the basketball universe and offer an alternate reality where entire playoff series can and most likely will be shaped by the likes of Nazr Mohammed and Rashard Lewis showing up big, or not showing up at all.

This season, perhaps more than any other, has been just as much about being terrible as striving for success. Some teams have fervently been doing the tanko since last year’s playoffs (everyone sees you Herb Kohl). The East is only half about the playoffs, so for the sake of this discussion, I’ve bucketed the East into four groups.

It’s tough to talk specific matchups even this close to the playoffs. Miami and Indiana are in a dead-heat for letting go of the top spot. Chicago and Toronto are duking it out for the third seed. Washington and Charlotte are only one game apart at six and seven, respectively, and New York and Cleveland are still hallucinating about snagging the eighth seed.

The Triumvirate

At Vegas’ 9/4, we’re sticking with the Miami Heat as the odds-on favorite to win all. If their March—with eight losses in a 13 game stretch to Houston, San Antonio, Chicago, Brooklyn, Denver, BOSTON? and Indiana—bleeds into April (2OT HOME LOSS ALERT!) we’ll have to revisit, but for now let’s call this aberration the Calypsian character building part of  the Lebron James’ Odyssey.

As it stands, the Fiery Balls will unceremoniously scorch the Atlanta Hawks, which have the 8-spot now. If the New York Knicks, just two game back, sneak in, or more improbably, the Cleveland Cavaliers, it will be dramatic. Big market, James’ future. Sordid history, James’ future. An easy series nonetheless.

The potential Indiana Pacers-Chicago Bulls second round match up keeps the NBA marketing department up at night. It’s delightful. The offense is so bad. But the effort and defense are so good. It’s still unclear if Coaches Frank Vogel and Tom Thibodeau have ever practiced offense. Ever. The Pacers’ recent drop-off and Paul George’s disappearing act hasn’t helped matters. When Joakim Noah is the most effective offensive catalyst on the floor for the whole 48 minutes, it’s both frightening and magical.

Frightening and magical:

Other than the Heat, both the Bulls and the Pacers are the only teams to have proven success in the playoffs. Without Derrick Rose, and given Paul George et al.’s apparent digression, however, they have almost no chance to win it all. Both will most likely beat their first round match-ups, but perhaps more than other teams that make the playoffs, their success will rely almost entirely on their match up.

The Upcomers’ Comeuppance

There are four other teams in the East that have  or are flirting with above-.500 records: Toronto, Brooklyn, Washington, and Charlotte. They’ll be fun to watch, and will win a series or two.

Their knock is that they’re young and unproven—with the exception of Brooklyn.

With a resurgent Paul Pierce (fantasy alert!), Brooklyn poses the greatest potential for surprise in the playoffs. The Brook Lopez-less Nets have played inspired ball in 2014, finally living up to the hype, discovering their “geometry.” They might fold under relentless pressure of the Bulls, but the ever-unpredictable Shadow of Kevin Garnett may spend the next six games tuning up for a head-banging, wide-eyed, awe-inspiring, rollicking, put-the-team-on-my-back run at history. He’s crazy enough to do it. Keeping my fingers crossed.

If the sands don’t shift, Toronto plays Washington, which would make for the most exciting first round match-up of the Eastern Conference Playoffs. You read that right. Young defense v. young offense. Both athletic, team-first and each led by a pair of first-time all-stars in Demar Derozan (fantasy alert!) and John Wall. Only one will make it, and whichever one does has a surprise shot at the Eastern conference finals!

The Charlotte Bobcats will plod along in a war of attrition with an imploding Indiana—which is favorable for them—but like the rest of this field, won’t make it past the second round even if they do pull the worn-out rug out from under the anxious Pacers.

The Rest of Them

These four teams, I swear, just ask their GMs, are just one piece or a cultural (or geographical) shift away from contending. I swear.

Atlanta will almost certainly be pretty good next year. And if the Hawks draft or sign a decent swingman in the off season, they could be great. Hopefully modern medicine will invent a pectoral implant for Al Horford, and the really nice and talented 4-5 tandem of Paul Milsap and the Other Al will get to make a run at a title.

The jury is still out on James Dolan’s Zen Project (incidentally, that’s the title of his band’s upcoming EP). That we live in a world where the Dolan-Phil Jackson relationship might work is, I guess, heartening for all the world-peace hopefuls.

The Cleveland Curseliers, I’m sorry. Come to Seattle.

I hold out hope for Josh Smith figuring it out next year. He’s bigger than every small forward and faster than every power forward. He can pass. He can rebound. He can shoot. From inside 15 feet. If he finds his confidence and gets his groove on in Motown, the Detroit Pistons become the city’s coolest experimentation band since The Isley Brothers. PUT THE CITY ON YOUR BACK J. SMOOV!!!!

The Toon Squads

Boston, Orlando, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee are the Toon Squads of the NBA. While they may not all be purposefully “tanking,” some are certainly, um, “experimenting,” and all have worse records than the worst record in the West.

A woefully. Woefully. So full of woe. Set of teams that are relying on a magnet-to-golf-ball type miracle that, defying three-dimensional physics, lassoes a Hall of Fame player by the wrist, dragging him through the interdimensional vortex that is the current NCAA-one-and-done-to-the-NBA transition.

I present to you the 2014 Philly Toon Squad and 2014 Milwauky Toon Squad. A helluva experiment.

Of course the joke will be on the team that ends up with Andrew Wiggins and the zero fucks he gives about winning a basketball game. I hope to God I’m wrong about him.

Mariners open game thread – 4/3/2014

Roenis Elias takes the mound for the Mariners against Jesse Chavez and the Oakland A’s.

The A’s roster continues to be unbelievably unexciting on paper and they will inevitably continue to go out and win the division anyway. I’m pretty sure Billy Beane could go to a dumpster behind a barbershop and sew a serviceable (read: bearded 28 year old rookie) major leaguer out of human hair.

On the Mariner’s side of things, Roenis Elias is a lefty starter with projectable front-ish rotation stuff and a cutesy (read: harrowing and crazy to imagine) narrative to match. Tell your Mom! Tell your sister! Tell your girlfriend! Human interest narratives enable the savvy baseball fan to talk his way into more screen time for a pastime that is either getting less and less American (no fucking way) or simply drowning in the socialist illuminati conspiracy espoused by the insidious propaganda of our leader, B. Hussein. O.

Elias is already 25 years old, which doesn’t necessarily indicate readiness but does maybe indicate that he isn’t being rushed from a medical perspective. While I have no real quantitative proof of this being utterly oblivious to all-things-medicinal– it is somewhat of an accepted maxim that guys shouldn’t be throwing 200 or so major league innings in their late-teens early twenties.**

**Felix is explicably excluded from this trend because his mom dropped his right-arm into the river styx on their way to the….uh…Venezuelan…food…store. (read: ?)

See MLB.com’s preview here.

These threads are being established as a means to discuss the day’s game. Comment away!

 

Why we watch

It is a common view that spending a large time watching, discussing or thinking about professional sports is a waste of time- a form of escapism in which one chooses to allocate meaning to an external and ultimately frivolous activity.

I get why people would have this understanding.

Professional athletes are paid an exorbitant amount of money to play games. Sports games! People are then paid an exorbitant amount of money to form opinions, comment upon and even announce said games. For the non-sports-fan, this is something people find frustrating.

Yet, if that frustration is rooted in a jealous outcry against the relatively unfair financial value of these frivolous professions does that imply that “value” insofar as we are to say “meaning” equates to monetary value? Should we indict the entire capitalist system that allows mass interest and entertainment to supersede the needs of children (i.e. teacher’s wages)!? Should this be a topic I avoid?! Are rhetorical questions an effective rhetorical device? Divestment?!

But what happens for those of us who have already fallen in love with one of these games (in my case, baseball)? What happens to we who have ascribed value to that game that is so deep-seated and expansive that it has no discernible beginning and has already become part of our narrative understanding of ourselves?

I am not going to boycott Safeco. I love baseball and that is part of what I look forward to as I slog through the frivolity of the day-to-day. You can’t take me alive, Communists! Illuminati! Conspiracy! Nobama!!!

Let’s look a little at one way in which we allocate meaning in our lives. Let’s do it in the context of professional sports! I am of the opinion that the narratives and meanings that human beings allocate to their team’s successes and failures is no less frivolous than say, an appreciation for art or music. Yet someone who has a nuanced understanding and appreciation for the latter two mediums is considered cultured, whereas the avid sports fan is often portrayed as an oafish, According-to-Jim-esque caricature of everything that is wrong with the American male.

I’ll start with a quick discussion on narrative structures. While Heidegger isn’t exactly someone who you want to throw in your lot with for all things philosophical (he was a Nazi, and all), he does have some interesting thoughts about the mechanisms of narrative structures and how they operate within a human life.

To paraphrase for my own benefit here: human beings are thrown into the world against their choosing and our lives are bookended by this “thrownness” into the world (read: birth) and our inevitable deaths. The term bookend is not accidental.

Once we become conscious and anxious regarding our own finite existence, oriented towards death, we almost-automatically project a narrative structure onto that finite existence. This narrative structure becomes the mechanism through which otherwise incidental blips on our day-to-day radar are ascribed meaning.

Our lives are filled with the aforementioned blips. There are shit tons of them. We live in Blip-city. Blip-nation. Blip-blip-boom. Blip-knot. If you were to take all of the blips in your day-to-day routine and imagine each of those blips as a grain of sand, it is likely that you would end up with a shit ton of sand! A small hippie convent’s blips can, if placed sequentially next to one another, form a line of blips long enough to reach a place very far away! Maybe Mars!

When we relate the story of our lives, most of those blips are wholly omitted, glossed over, or subsumed under a category (i.e. work or school) to be filed away. In constructing the narrative of our own lives, we are automatically making choices about what to include and exclude which makes the thrust of our narratives deeply personal.

Heidegger calls this the for-the-sake-of-which, but in a post on a Mariners blog, I will refrain from using that term again. As it turns out, English translations of German compound nouns are actually a pretty big pain in the ass to read and tend to clang and clamor with internal dissonance alongside the more familiar words that echo in our heads while reading.

Baseball lacks any inherent value. There is no objective reason why I should scream obscenities and throw my roommates’ cat in the air when Brad Miller hits a dinger. But- there is a subjective reason. The Mariners successes and failures become important because they have a place in the narrative I have authored and projected on to my life. They are the teal, blue and shiny blips that I pluck from the sea of work-blips, laundry-blips and grocery-blips that are comparably drab. I am a magpie who covets baseball-blips. Caw!

So, when trying to describe why you care about the Mariners to whosoever would force you to yield your remote to them: recite this post. They will likely be so bored by the end of it that you will get your way!

You’re welcome!!!

Mariners open game thread – 4/2/2014

James Paxton takes the mound for the Mariners today against Hector Santiago and the Angels.

Paxton is looking to build off a strong late-season call-up when he proceeded in pitching better than he had at any minor league level prior.

Everyone knows that Paxton has potentially dominant stuff. Unfortunately, he seems to sometimes not know where said stuff is going. He pines after it, and cries cries cries with a lonely heart.

“Where are you going, stuff?”

It (sometimes) doesn’t answer.

Willie Bloomquist gets his first start of the season today in place of Kyle Seager. Do not take this as a sign of things to come. This is more of an instance where McClendon wants to get some more right-handed hitters in the lineup while limiting the slow accumulation of rust that would otherwise settle on Willie’s customarily gritty thighs. He will need those, where he’s going.

Here’s a link to the MLB.com game preview.

These threads are being established as a means to discuss the day’s game. Comment away!

Robinson Cano, ceilings, floors and the potential to reach either

The Mariners didn’t feel very Mariners last night.

Opening day (read: night) is a perennial renewal of fandom- a time where wearied fans can spin extrapolated narratives from a single good night of baseball. We can exult in the possibility that meaningful (insofar as someone can really call any sort of professional sport “meaningful”) baseball may be played late in the year.

Opening night offered Mariner’s fans several narratives to cling to. I am going to cling to one of the more obvious ones: Fuck me, Robinson Cano is a Mariner.

Robinson Cano has been a model of consistency throughout his career. Sure, there has been a bump or two in the road naturally—but for the most part Robinson Cano has been a consistent, durable lefty with a smooth swing, gap power and a batting-title-worthy hit tool. He does all of this while playing great defense at a premium defensive position.

His one main criticism (his apparent lack of hustle) is basically just a byproduct of how easy he makes the game look. Cano hit an infield single last night. Poo-tee-weet.

Therefore, when “baseball people” preach ceaselessly about building “up the middle,” Robinson Cano is the kind of player that they salivate over But Robinson Cano isn’t a steak, he’s a human being. And a real hero. #Drivesoundtrack

Let’s take a quick look at Cano’s last 5 years in WAR according to Baseballreference.com:

Year

WAR BB%

2009

4.5 4.5

2010

8.1 8.2

2011

5.7 5.6

2012

7.0 8.8

2013

6.8 9.5

 

I went ahead included Cano’s BB% for funsies. An interesting aspect of that facet of Cano’s game is that his BB% for his first 5 years in the league was never above 5% which validates the perception he carries as somewhat of a free-swinger.

For a Mariners team that has been notoriously awful at getting on base for quite some time- his uptick in BB% is encouraging and probably stands to improve if only by virtue of the free passes he will inevitably be receiving, the first taste of which we experienced last night. It is also worth noting that his better years in terms of overall value were the years in which he posted a higher BB%. Could be coincidence, but it may not be. Mysteries abound.

Mainly we see consistency. Cano has consistently produced at an all-star level for 5 years. As you can see, there is some fluctuation in his WAR numbers year-to-year, but that fluctuation has been between that of an All-star and MVP contender. The Mariners have not had an everyday player like Cano in quite some time. As a point of comparison, the Mariners’ best everyday player for the past two years has been Kyle Seager. Kyle Seager has never been worth more than 3.7 WAR, his value last season. Cano’s worst season in the last 5 years is nearly a full win more than our most valuable position player the past 2.

In terms of familiarity, that makes Cano to the Mariners what a breakfast menu is to Taco Bell. Glorious. And yet the times are changing, Cano is in Mariners green, and I can get a waffle-sausage-taco for less than 3 dollars. As Professional Baseball Hat Enthusiast, Fro-yo Magnate and Sportsketball Agent Jay-Z once said during a private, unsuccessful negotiation with Hank Steinbrenner: “That’s the anthem, get ya damn hands up.”

There have been those who have argued that the money spent to land Cano would have been better spent distributed among a number of lesser players to make up for some of the question marks the Mariners roster still has.

I disagree with this notion. It seems to me that, given the relative youth and volatility of this roster, signing Cano makes sense if the organization maintains the belief that the younger guys have the potential to figure it out following 2 or 3 years of big league experience.

Cano’s consistent value allows the Mariner’s baseline to hover more closely to respectability. The volatility and potential upside of the rest of the roster is the projected gray area that can fill the gap between that baseline and a potential playoff contender, should a portion of the younger guys outperform what have been largely skeptical projections.

And there is the gamble upon which our season hinges: the young guys.

The great “if.”

We have been fed this narrative before, but it has never been nearly as plausible as it seems now in the post-coital embrace of last night’s victory.

The young guys are not as young as they used to be. This is a group that has less time to prove itself, but also a more realistic opportunity to do so. Rather than a group trying to carry a team on their inexperienced shoulders, they are instead a group with multiple seasons of big-league experience trying to bridge the gap between a slightly-less-lackluster-than-usual floor and a rather exciting ceiling.

Let us hope our young guys will be the moon-shoes to Cano’s feet, as long as he doesn’t hit his head on the ceiling fan!

That analogy was so fucking bad. I am sorry. Go Mariners.

Note: As a quick reference for various stat definitions and other baseball-y things, check out the glossary on fangraphs.com. If you scroll down they have some cool articles that detail the ins and outs of advanced statistics. Definitely worthy of a read.

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