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DH David Dellucci
SS Michael Young
1B Mark Teixeira
3B Hank Blalock
2B Alfonso Soriano
LF Kevin Mench
CF Laynce Nix
RF Richard Hidalgo
C Rod Barajas

The Rangers rank third in the majors in runs scored per game, just
behind the Yankees and Red Sox. Yes, Ameriquest Field’s batter’s park factor of
111 is the most hitter-friendly in the AL, 2nd in MLB. But that fact
can’t obscure the great seasons being forged by several Rangers hitters.
According to Baseball Prospectus’ new Sortable
Stats feature
, six of the top 30 hitters in the AL as ranked by
VORP are Rangers. While you might expect big seasons out of corner infield
stars Hank Blalock and Mark Teixeira, the emergence of Kevin Mench (.309
EqA
) and the out-of-nowhere explosion of David
Dellucci
(.333
EqA
) have supercharged what already looked like a formidable lineup
heading into the ’05 season. It’s Dellucci that gets the party started
for
Texas on this night, crushing the second pitch of the game from
Aaron Sele for a near upper-deck homer.

I only learn this after the fact, however. While the magic of TiVo
allows
me to slo-mo Sele’s neck whiplashing around as Dellucci’s homer takes
out
a small satellite, I don’t make it into Safeco Field until the top of
the
second inning. Accompanied by my wife Angele and BP alum/Mariner
die-hard
Derek
Zumsteg
, we’ve set out to test our ability to see the game from the
best vantage point possible, for the least money. After waiting until
the
bottom of the 1st to approach a scalper, our efforts start slowly, when
the first ticket-waiver says we can have three View-Reserved seats for
$15
apiece; we were hoping for better, given the game’s well underway, the
Mariners are horrible this year, and season-ticket holders can buy
these
seats for $15 each anyway, meaning he’s basically asking for face
value.
After Derek sniffs around for another couple minutes–this is his show,
given I’ve been living in Seattle only three weeks and this is my first
trip to Safeco in two years–he heads to the ticket window to get cheap
seats, setting up a plan to sneak down for a better view once inside.
Just
as the ticket vendor hands him the trio, I see the same stubborn
scalper
(“The price won’t go down ’til the 6th inning!” he practically taunted
us
after we refused his hard-line offer) pleading with a group of six
teenagers to take his ducats for $11 each. Ouch.

Walking purposefully, Derek leads us down the first-base line, where he
then darts into a section near the foul pole guarded by a seemingly
indifferent usher. He and Angele are already putting down their jackets
and about to sit down when the usher, for no apparent reason, sees me
straggling and asks to see my ticket. Busted, he gives me the boot and
whistles for the rest of my group to get the Rick
Helling

out of there. We circle around the park and reach the same section near
the foul pole on the opposite side of the stadium. There, we quickly
learn
the key to getting more for your ticket buck–sweet-talk an older,
female
usher. “Come back in the 3rd inning and you can sit here,” she tells
Derek. This is far from the days of Olympic Stadium, when as a
perpetually
broke 16-year-old I used to buy $1 bleacher seats, then sneak into the
$20
primo locations with my buddies for a better view. Of course paid
attendance on this night is 37,000+, compared to the four-digit crowds
the
Expos often brought in during the lean years, so maybe my perception’s
just skewed.

We find a nice standing vantage point in the lower concourse near home
plate, where we set up shop for the half-inning before our usher lets
us
through. Here’s what you missed, besides the Dellucci moonshot:

After Dellucci’s blast, Michael Young crushed a ball
to
right-center, Ichiro‘s
improbable running catch saving a sure triple. Blalock then rockets a
ball
to center that’s hauled in near the wall by Jeremy
Reed
.
Sele then gets touched for a walk and a sharp single in the second,
barely
wiggling out of the jam. Despite the small 1-0 deficit, Sele looks
ready
to give up 10 runs. Frighteningly, he’s also the
best starter the Mariners have
this year. Meanwhile the M’s manage
only an Ichiro walk in the first, a Randy Winn double
play and an Adrian Beltre five-year, $65 million, .306
OBP strikeout negating any germ of a rally. An inning and a half into
my
efforts to become an M’s fan while living in Seattle and Derek’s
prediction has come true: Other than Ichiro and maybe Jeremy
Reed
, I’m having a tough time liking any of these guys.
Speaking
of which…


RF Ichiro Suzuki
LF Randy Winn
3B Adrian Beltre
1B Richie Sexson
DH Raul Ibanez
2B Bret Boone
CF Jeremy Reed
SS Michael Morse
C Pat Borders

When your two big guns aren’t producing the way you’d hoped, that’s a
recipe for disaster. Beltre’s been a huge disappointment three months
into
his big contract. He’s young as free agents go, plays a premium
defensive
position, and a 2004-like big second half would go a long way to
redeeming
his season. For now, though, he’s been a bust. Meanwhile Richie
Sexson
‘s hitting .238/.340/.484/.290 EqA–not bad, but hardly
worth the five-year, $50 million deal the M’s gave him in December,
ignoring Sexson’s health risks, his falling short of stardom even in
his
best seasons, and of course my oft-repeated
immutable law of free-agent first basemen
: Teams that sign
30-something free-agent first basemen to lucrative, long-term contracts
are almost certain to throw away tens of millions of dollars. I’m not
saying that the Mariners will be looking at Sexson’s deal as Mo
Vaughn
-esque in two years. Call it somewhere between
Jason Giambi-disaster-level and Jim
Thome
-great-for-a-while-then-increasingly-ugly status.

The M’s do get on the board in the bottom of the 2nd, though it’s the
bottom of the order, not the high-priced three-four hitters who get the
job done. After a two-out walk by Bret Boone, Reed
laces
a double down the line in left, Boone sliding in just ahead of
Rod
Barajas
‘ tag to tie the game.

Sele and Chan Ho Park then set the clock back to 2001,
both settling into a groove. Park’s still getting knocked around this
year, but thanks to ample run support and some luck he compiled a 7-2
record heading into the game. He’s spotting his fastball well–or at
least
taking advantage of the weak Mariner lineup, with an Ichiro double all the
M’s
can muster from the 3rd through 5th innings. Sele sets down the first
three batters in the 3rd and the first two in the 4th. Falling behind
four
of the lineup’s top five hitters, Sele retires all five anyway, using
mostly change-ups and curves to bail himself out. A 1-2 change to
Soriano
produces a prodigious whiff, and the Mariners look like they may
finally
get a strong pitching performance this time around.

It doesn’t last. With Sele topping out at 87 on his fastball and
throwing
mostly junk, Mench sits on an off-speed pitch. He gets one, driving the
ball to right-center for a double. Laynce Nix and
Richard Hidalgo follow with an RBI double and RBI
single,
cashing two runs. The bleeding stops only when Winn–who may have the
worst throwing arm in baseball–runs toward the ball before suddenly
giving way to Reed. Hidalgo, committed after seeing Winn move toward
the
ball, gets gunned down at second by the much better throwing Reed.

It gets uglier in the 5th. Barajas hits another line shot to
right-center–the Rangers are just sitting on slow stuff outside and
pummeling it–and Dellucci walks to put two on with none out. Sele
looks
like he may again squirm out of it with the damage minimized. But
Blalock
ropes a single to left, bringing up more Winn comedy. Barajas, one of
the
slowest runners in the game, touches third just as Winn fields the ball
in
left. He comes up throwing–any kind of decent throw will nail Barajas
by
15 feet. Winn throws a three-hopper that gets to Pat
Borders
around the time Barajas is on his third handful of
sunflower seeds in the dugout. The Mariners’ need to give regular
playing
time to talented, if injury-prone, OF prospect Chris
Snelling
(.363/.447/.540 at Triple-A Tacoma before being
called
up Sunday) and the team’s desire to get the 31-year-old Winn’s $3.75
million 2005 salary and $5 million ’06 mutual option off the books are
better reasons for a trade, but if Winn’s arm ends up sealing his
ticket
out of town, that works too. Soriano’s RBI single makes it 5-1 Rangers.
Though the game’s only half over, the crowd goes dead quiet, probably
realizing there’s no way the M’s are coming back.

Other thoughts:

  • The Mariners rank just 8th in the AL and 16th in MLB in runs prevented,
    despite playing in the most extreme pitcher’s park in the game
    (Pitchers
    Park Factor 93, tied with San Diego and–surprise–Cincinnati for most
    pitcher-friendly environments in baseball). When the M’s made their run
    at
    the start of the decade, it was the stand-out pitching of Jamie
    Moyer
    , Joel Pineiro and Freddy
    Garcia
    as much as the hitting of Ichiro, Boone and
    Edgar
    Martinez
    that won games for the M’s. With Pineiro coming off
    injuries in recent years, Moyer finally showing his age and Garcia pitching for
    the White Sox, that front-line pitching is now gone. The simultaneous
    temptation to bring up 19-year-old sensation Felix
    Hernandez
    and save him for when some of the Mariners’ young
    major
    leaguers start to bear fruit must drive Bill
    Bavasi
    and company
    batty. You could say the M’s are lucky that Hernandez is out a few days
    with what’s being called “shoulder bursitis,” thus preventing a
    promotion,
    but it’s never good news when a pitching prospect gets even the
    slightest
    twinge in his shoulder, is it?

  • If nothing else, Kenny Rogers‘ 20-game suspension
    marks
    the first time in recent memory that MLB has recognized the
    pointlessness
    of the typical five, seven-, eight-game suspensions given starting
    pitchers for various transgressions. With a little rotation juggling
    and a
    well-timed appeal, teams can get away with having their suspended
    hurler
    miss only one start–which can even be a blessing given the rigors of
    the
    long season on a pitcher’s arm. If the Rogers suspension sticks,
    that’ll
    cost the Rangers four starts from their ace, a painful penalty for a
    team
    facing long odds in chasing the Angels and a tough race for the AL Wild
    Card. Of course Rogers is already appealing the suspension; based on
    precedents, you can expect the length of his suspension to be cut. As
    this
    recent article from the Wall Street Journal explains, a
    dramatic cut off Rogers’ $50,000 fine
    is all but certain.

  • There was plenty of noise surrounding Boone getting designated for
    assignment over the weekend. His 2001 season ranks as one of the best
    ever
    by a second baseman, whatever you might think of Boone’s training
    regimen.
    The angle I find most interesting is the idea of forcing other teams’
    hands. The Yankees recently DFA’d the woefully ineffective Paul
    Quantrill
    . Instead of seeing his 6.75 ERA go unclaimed, the
    Yanks
    got the Padres interested during the 10-day window the team had to
    trade
    the sinkerballer. Though Darrell May and Tim
    Redding
    won’t win any beauty contests for their own ’05
    performances, it’s not a bad haul for a player the Yankees had long
    stopped using in relevant situations. The Mariners may have sniffed the
    trade market for Boone, only to find teams reluctant to take on the
    remaining half of Boone’s $9 million+ salary. With the 10-day window
    now
    in effect and the Pads among at least a couple of teams interested, the
    Mariners’ move may return a decent haul in its own right. No word on
    whether Derek’s rendition of POD’s “Boom”
    every time Boone comes up to bat will follow him out town:

    Boone! Here comes the Boone!
    Ready or not, I strike out a lot!

The Rangers go on to win the game 6-2, the Mariners sleepwalking
through
another lifeless game in what’s been a lifeless season. With any
luck
the losses will continue, and fans will start to stay away. Then we can
start sweet-talking the ushers in the box seats.

Set Your TiVos and VCRs: The next Prospectus Game of the Week pits the
Cleveland Indians (the team pegged as the clear
favorite for the AL Wild Card according to BP’s Playoff Odds
Report
)
against the New York Yankees, Sunday July 10, 1 p.m. ET. Tune in to Channel 735 on DirecTV to see
Scott Elarton duke it out with either Tanyon
Sturtze
or a sore-shouldered Carl Pavano.
We’ll
take the over on this one.