Ichiro depressed by another lost Mariners season
Seattle Mariners star Ichiro Suzuki is dumbfounded, even depressed at the turn of fortunes his team has taken.
Ken Griffey Jr. is gone, driven home to retirement in Florida. Cliff Lee is gone, too, traded to division-rival Texas instead of teaming with fellow ace pitcher Felix Hernandez to beat the Rangers and everyone else in the AL West.
The Mariners have gone from a popular playoff pick and winners of baseball's offseason to losers during the regular season.
Seattle begins the second half Thursday at the Los Angeles Angels sitting 18 games under .500, and 15 games behind the Rangers - last in the division. A team built on pitching and defense is failing - and flailing - miserably on offense.
''To be honest with you, I can't even explain in words. It's very, very tough, hard and depressing,'' Suzuki said Monday in Anaheim, Calif., ahead of his 10th consecutive All-Star game.
Seattle's 3.39 runs per game and .238 average are its second-lowest marks at the break in team history. The Mariners' 57 home runs in 88 games is their third-fewest at any All-Star break. Seattle had 102 homers at the break the last time the team made the playoffs - in 2001.
''The media - everyone - expected a lot from us in spring training, and it didn't work out that way,'' the 36-year-old Suzuki said through his interpreter. ''You can't explain it in words. That's how tough it is, mentally.''
Suzuki, who this season became the sixth major league player since 1901 to steal 20 bases in each of his first 10 seasons, is not alone wallowing in the grim reality of a 35-53 record.
''We're all disappointed,'' said manager Don Wakamatsu, who has gone from refreshing in the his rookie season to ripped by fans in his second. ''We came in with high expectations.''
General manager Jack Zduriencik has admitted those expectations may have been too high.
The Mariners lost 101 games just two seasons ago and are still in the early stages of Zduriencik's overhaul of the organization. The team has increased its emphasis on developing minor league players and is remodeling the big league squad into one based on pitching and defense - as opposed to high-priced, free-agent power hitters.
Long-term success is what the GM was looking to when he traded Lee for heralded hitting prospect Justin Smoak and several Double-A players.
''One of the important things for us is to win now, of course, but also build for the future,'' Zduriencik said Friday.
''In this process we are trying to build a World Series championship-caliber club here.''
That seems light years away right now. So what's left in this season?
The 23-year-old Smoak is going to play almost every day at first base. That means Russell Branyan, acquired from Cleveland on June 26 to give Seattle at least one consistent home-run threat, will play more at designated hitter. That leaves Milton Bradley trying to find playing time in left field with young Michael Saunders.
Wakamatsu said he hopes Bradley, who last started on July 3, will get a fresh start this weekend against the Angels following some rest.
The rotation has a 3.55 ERA, the best at the All-Star break in team history. But without Lee it has holes that Triple-A call-up David Pauley is now helping to fill. Erik Bedard, a former ace in Baltimore, was scheduled to make his season debut this month following shoulder surgery last August, but his shoulder began bothering him again. He remains out indefinitely.
The bullpen that was a strength last season is now a liability, epitomized by 2009 star closer David Aardsma's 0-6 record, 5.40 ERA and four blown saves in 20 chances - as many blown saves as he had all of last season.
And the Mariners are closer to their second 100-loss season in three years than any postseason pipe dream.
''I didn't expect this to happen, but ... it's reality,'' Suzuki said. ''We have to deal with it.
''To us players, we can only look forward to a future.''