Beware the BS.
I am not referring to the boilerplate pabulum presidential candidates disguise as answers at a town hall meeting, but rather the BS in a baseball box score. It is an abbreviation for “blown save.”
The 2015 Mariners were charged with 26 blown saves, a 117 percent increase from 2014. If you’re looking for a convenient explanation about how a team that benefited from an MVP-caliber effort out of free agent Nelson Cruz and yet won 11 fewer games than it did the previous year, well there it is: 14 more blown saves.
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Other factors contributed to what might rank as the most disappointing season in franchise history, given how high hopes were on opening day. There were too many swing-and-miss hitters in the lineup, and when batters actually reached first base, they were prone to remain at the first base. Such an unreliable offense called for an emphasis on run prevention, a difficult chore when the outfield is simultaneously occupied by three guys with at least one conspicuous deficiency.
No general manager was more aggressive at addressing his team’s needs during the winter than Seattle’s Jerry Dipoto. He acquired veteran free agent Nori Aoki for contact and speed at the top of the lineup and solved the outfield-defense quandary by trading for Rangers center fielder Leonys Martin.
Martin is blessed with such exceptional range, he could play the outfield by himself and there would be minimal falloff from what the Mariners got from the likes of Austin Jackson, Dustin Ackley and Mark Trumbo in 2015.
In ways big and small, tangible and intangible, the Mariners open the season Monday as an improved team. Remember them breaking spring camp last season with such bench players as Rickie Weeks, Justin Ruggiano and Willie Bloomquist?
They were off the bench — and the roster — before the All-Star game.
Dipoto’s answer to Weeks, Ruggiano and Bloomquist appears to be 22-year old Luis Sardinas, a budding Mark McLemore type whose versatility could prove invaluable. Because of the vigilant stance MLB has taken against performance-enhancing drugs, the concept of the set lineup — the same eight position players starting virtually every game for six months — has been phased out.
Everybody on the 25-man roster is required to participate these days, which brings us to the elephant in the room.
The bullpen was pummeled in the Cactus League. That’s not necessarily a concern — the Cactus League is a hitter’s paradise — but there’s reason to suspect the Mariners’ most obvious weakness last season remains their most obvious weakness this season.
Aside from a jealous envy that borders on psychopathic rage, I’ve got nothing against any man whose age hovers around 40. But when Joaquin Benoit (38) and Joel Peralta (40) figure to be mainstays in the Mariners’ bullpen mix, durability concerns are inevitable.
Steve Cishek is a mere 29 — he’s the Drake LaRoche of the bullpen, the kid who’s there all the time — except Cishek has an actual job. He’ll be counted on as the early season closer, and if the fates allow, the entire season closer.
Cishek gave up five runs and eight hits over his eight innings of work during the exhibition season. On the bright side, he’s healthy and seemingly possessed with the mental strength to understand that struggling against minor league hitters in games that don’t count is no indication he’ll struggle against major league hitters in games that do.
Still, if you’re a Mariners fan worried that bullpen will be the same recurring nightmare it was last season, you’re not alone. As Bobby Darin used to sing, the line forms on the right, dear.
But remember this: Spring-training baseball should not be confused with a sneak preview of real-life baseball.
Take the aforementioned McLemore, who was seething two weeks before the 2001 opener. The 36-year old veteran had lost his full-time job as Mariners second baseman to free agent Bret Boone, and wanted out.
“I’m not ready to play a couple times a week,” McLemore said during a mid-March rant directed at management. “If they don’t believe me, I’ll tell them again, and if nothing happens, I’ll tell them the next day and the day after that. I’ve bottled a lot of frustration this spring, but the bottle’s about filled up.”
Pat Gillick made many moves during his four years as Mariners general manager, but one of the best was a move he didn’t make. McLemore remained on the roster as an interchangeable part who played six different positions and batted in seven different lineup spots for a team that won 116 games.
It was McLemore, carrying the American flag in the immediate wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, who led his teammates around the infield after they clinched the American League West title.
Six months after making it known he was a most unhappy camper, Mark McLemore established himself as the glue that bonded a powerhouse.