Manager: John McLaren General Manager: Bill Bavasi
Home Ballpark (multi-year Park Factors): Safeco Park (96/96)
Who's Replacing Whom:
Wladimir Balentien replaces Jose Guillen
Miguel Cairo replaces Ben Broussard
Jeff Clement replaces . . . TBA
Erik Bedard replaces Jeff Weaver
Carlos Silva replaces Horacio Ramirez and Ryan Feierabend (minors)
Mark Lowe replaces Eric O'Flaherty (minors)
Arthur Rhodes replaces George Sherrill
1B - Richie Sexson (R)
2B - Jose Lopez (R)
SS - Yuniesky Betancourt (R)
3B - Adrian Beltre (R)
C - Kenji Johjima (R)
RF - Wladimir Balentien (R)
CF - Ichiro Suzuki (L)
LF - Raul Ibañez (L)
DH - Jose Vidro (S)
R - Willie Bloomquist (UT)
R - Miguel Cairo (IF)
L - Jeff Clement (C)
R - Jamie Burke (C)
L - Erik Bedard
R - Felix Hernandez
R - Carlos Silva
L - Jarrod Washburn
R - Miguel Batista
R - J.J. Putz
L - Ryan Rowland-Smith
R - Mark Lowe
R - Sean Green
R - Cha Seung Baek
L - Arthur Rhodes
R - Brandon Morrow
15-day DL: R - Mike Morse (UT), R - Anderson Garcia
L - Ichiro Suzuki (CF)
R - Jose Lopez (2B)
L - Raul Ibañez (LF)
R - Adrian Beltre (3B)
S - Jose Vidro (DH)
R - Richie Sexson (1B)
R - Kenji Johjima (C)
R - Wladimir Balentien (RF)
R - Yuniesky Betancourt (SS)
The Mariners and Tigers both won 88 games last year, missing the playoffs only because of late-season collapses. For the Mariners, that collapse came all at once as they lost 13 of 14 starting on August 25 to go from one game back in the West to a whopping nine games out and a three-game lead over the Yankees in the Wild Card race to five games out behind the Yankees and second-place Tigers.
Both teams then made win-now trades over the winter, trading top prospects for established stars in the hope of getting over the hump this season. For the Mariners, that big trade sent rookie outfielder Adam Jones, dominant lefty reliever George Sherrill, and a trio of pitching prospects to the Orioles for lefty ace Erik Bedard (see my Orioles preview for more on that trade).
There was one important difference between the two teams, however. The Tigers were a good team that took an unfortunate stumble. The Mariners were a poor team whose luck ran out.
As discussed in my Tigers preview, Detroit's collapse came when its young rotation faltered in August. When the season was over, the team had underperformed its 90-72 Pythagorean record by two games and had reason to believe that those young starters would rebound the following season. Add in the upgrades the team made through those win-now trades, and a 2008 playoff appearance became, and remains, a very reasonable expectation.
The Mariners, on the other hand, overachieved all year leading up to their August collapse, something I wrote about in detail for SI.com's Fungoes blog. Though their collapse also had a lot to do with poor pitching, it was more of a correction. Even with that stumble, the Mariners finished a whopping eight games above their Pythagorean record as they finished the year having allowed more runs than they scored. As I wrote in that Fungoes article, a lot of that success had to do with the spectacular work of their end-game tandem of closer J.J. Putz and LOOGY George Sherrill. In their rotation, only Felix Hernandez was above average on the season, and at the plate, only four Mariners had an OPS+ above 109. During the offseason, one of those four hitters, right fielder Jose Guillen, left as a free agent, and Sherrill was shipped off in the Bedard deal. The result is not a 90-win, or even an 88-win team that has reloaded for a run at the playoffs, but a 79-win team that broke even.
After sweeping the Yankees, the 14-15 Tigers are just one game better than the 13-16 Mariners, but the Tigers, after a poor start, have won 12 of their last 17 and are only a game and a half behind in their division. The Mariners, meanwhile, have won just one of their last four series (going 4-8 over that span) and are 4.5 games behind the AL-best Angels and A's.
What I'm trying to say is the Mariners aren't a good team, and they haven't gotten better despite trading away their future.
That isn't a slight on Bedard, who starts tonight, but the lefty is no kid. He's a late-blooming 29-year-old who finished last season on the disabled list with an oblique strain and has already taken one turn on the DL this year due to inflammation in his left hip. As a result, Bedard has had just one quality start in a mere three tries. Then again, that one quality outing was his first since coming of the DL and saw him throw 6 2/3 scoreless innings of two-hit ball at the overachieving A's. Last year, which was easily the best of Bedard's brief major league career, the lefty dominated the Yankees, lasting seven innings in each of his three starts against them and allowing no runs in either of the last two for this combined line: 14 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 16 K.
I'd say it would be best to make other plans tonight, but Bedard's opponent is Chien-Ming Wang, who out-dueled lefty C.C. Sabathia for seven innings in his last start as the Yankees won 1-0 in a gem of a game. Wang has also won 2-0 and 3-2 this year, and that doesn't include his one-run complete game victory over the Red Sox which ended in a 4-1 score. Wang also struck out nine Indians in his last start and has a 6.23 K/9 on the season. Right now, every Wang start is a must-see for Yankee fans, in part because the Yanks are 4-6 over their last ten games and of those four wins, two each were started by Wang and Mike Mussina.
Beside the two starters, the players to watch tonight are Seattle's 23-year-old rookie right fielder Wladimir Balentein and 24-year-old catcher Jeff Clement, both of whom were called up on Wednesday. Besides increasing the impressive collection of first names in the Mariner lineup, Wladimir, was the player who made Adam Jones "expendable." Balentein hit .291/.362/.509 at age 22 in his first season at triple-A last year, and was slugging .619 when called up earlier this week (the M's designated Guillen's initial replacement, Brad Wilkerson, for assignment to make room for him). In three late-game appearances for the big club last September, Balentein went 2 for 3 with a homer. In his first major league game this season he went 2 for 4 with a homer. In his second game he went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts. Tonight will be his third major league start. Clement was hitting .397/.535/.692 in his third season at triple-A and is 7 for 19 with two homers and four walks against just three strikeouts in his young major league career. It's not clear yet exactly how Clement will fit into the lineup, but he's likely to bounce between catcher and DH for now as Kenji Johjima and Jose Vidro have been the teams's two worst hitters in the early going.
As for the Yankees, Johnny Damon and Robinson Cano sit against the lefty Bedard. Shelley Duncan's at first base and hitting cleanup for the second straight night. Jason Giambi will DH with Hideki Matsui in left. Alberto Gonzalez mans the keystone and hits ninth. Damon is hitting .390/.479/.683 in his last 11 games and has reached base eight time in his last 19 plate appearances. Jason Giambi is 1 for his last 14 with a .176 OBP in that span. However, Damon hasn't hit Bedard in the past and Giambi has. Of course the difference between the two against Bedard is four plate appearances (Damon's), one homer and two walks (all Giambi's). Giambi has also struck out five times against Bedard to Damon's once. Me, I'd go with the hotter hitter.
Finally, Jose Veras has been called up to keep Phil Hughes' spot warm until Darrell Rasner arrives on Sunday. Veras has been dominant as the closer in Scranton this year (13 IP, 8 H, 4 BB, 21 K, 1.38 ERA, 0.92 WHIP) and could survive past Sunday if the team decides to demote a pitcher whose been worked more heavily such as Ohlendorf, Albaladejo, or usual suspect Chris Britton.