The manager of the Mariners is in midseason form, doing his best to ensure Seattle finds ways to lose games all year long.
Entering Sunday's game Seattle had already dropped the first two in a four-game series. But things were looking great this particular day. Felix Hernandez threw shutout baseball for eight innings and the M's were up 2-0 entering the bottom of the ninth. After 97 pitches Felix wasn't feeling well. With J.J. Putz already out with an injury, McLaren had an interesting choice to make. There were four reasonable options. First was Mark Lowe, a flamethrower who recovered from injuries in 2007. Sean Green, a reliable reliever last year, was ready. Ryan Rowland-Smith, the promising southpaw, was also available as well. And finally, Eric O'Flaherty. Eric had been somewhat erratic all year. He had also thrown 29 pitches the previous night. Naturally McLaren decided to go with the arm most likely to be tired. Lowe tried to clean up Eric's mess but failed miserably.
To be fair the loss shouldn't be solely blamed on the manager. Lowe simply didn not pitch well. But O'Flaherty shouldn't have been brought in to close. Green and Smith are competent -- and more importantly -- were fresh. McLaren should have also made defensive adjustments, subbing LF Raul Ibanez and even 1B Richie Sexson. While those two didn't figure in the outcome of this particular game, a good manager needs to stay ahead of the game and adjust accordingly.
Which brings up to today's game. Of course Seattle lost. But it was the manner in which the team lost that should be discouraging to Mariners fans. Where to begin? Perhaps the seventh inning. In a 4-4 ballgame with no outs and Ichiro on first base McLaren orders Jose Lopez -- the hottest hitter on the team -- to sacrifice bunt. Next Raul Ibanez was allowed to hit against LHP Jamie Walker. Raul subsequently grounded out to the pitcher, which moved Ichiro to third. The next hitter, Brad Wilkerson, was pinch-hit for with Mike Morse. Morse struck out to end the inning.
Taking the bat away from your hottest hitter was bad enough. But McClaren obviously doesn't read this blog and figured it was a good idea to let Ibanez bat but pinch-hit for Wilkerson when the numbers suggest the exact opposite would have been a better option.
Memo to McLaren: Ibanez struggles against lefties and Wilkerson hits better against southpaws.
Now to be fair Wilkerson has had a horrible start to the season (and Morse was red hot in Spring Training) but it still wasn't the right move in retrospect and reality. To compound the problem, Morse took over for Wilkerson in right field for the remainder of the game. Sandwiching Ichiro between Ibanez and Morse in the outfield is a terrible defense, one which certainly shouldn't be allowed to play together late in a tie ballgame.
Moving onto the bottom of the eight. Starter Carlos Silva has thrown over 100 pitches. The game is still tied and McLaren needs to bring in a reliever. There's still Lowe (relatively fresh but got hit yesterday), Green (fresh), Smith (fresh), Cha Seung Baek (fresh but doesn't have good stuff), Roy Corcocan (same as Baek) and O'Flaherty (44 pitches in the past two games and got hit yesterday).
Of course McLaren goes with O'Flaherty, who winds up giving up the game-winning HR to Aubrey Huff. Orioles sweep.
Seattle doesn't have the talent to overcome glaring managerial mistakes. And they're paying for those mistakes early and often this season.