M's offense is offensive

The old newsroom joke: Those are the reporters. They can write, but not spell. Those are the editors. They can spell, but not write. Over there in that office is the publisher, who can’t write or spell.

The Seattle Mariners “offense” is publishing one of the ugliest weeks since last season, when the club lost 101 times, largely (or meagerly, when you think about it) by neither hitting, scoring, fielding nor pitching, much less thinking.

Going into a weekend set with the Minnesota Twins, the 15-14 M’s were in arrears by four games from where they were after Sunday’s triumphant come-from-behind 15-inning win against Oakland. The loss-streak featured (sometimes) hitting, (sometimes) scoring, but sometimes neither and seldom both at the same time.

Manager Don Wakamatsu tweaked the batting order several times, but runs weren’t scored. Certain players raised their averages significantly, but the run drought wore on. Pitching occasionally was of a caliber to win in most major-league situations, but still the M’s finished “L’s,” a season-high four in a row.

The most recent game was fraught with the prevailing frustration. Seattle had nine hits, two more than its host, Kansas City, but didn’t get a run until there were two out in the ninth. The Royals won, 3-1, despite another splendid pitching performance by left-hander Jarrod Washburn.

A large part of Wakamatsu’s problem is being stuck with unproductive Adrian Beltre in the middle of the lineup. Beltre is in a “contract-negotiation year,” meaning it thus behooves him to put up the best possible numbers on offense to go along with his unquestioned supremacy as a defensive third baseman. But Beltre has never even approached the hitting statistics that he amassed his final year with the Dodgers before agreeing to a multi-year deal with the M’s. In 2004, Beltre had 48 home runs and 121 runs batted in, hitting .334 while committing just 10 errors. It was a better year than the best ever registered by probably the three greatest third basemen ever: Brooks Robinson, George Brett and Mike Schmidt.

Through Thursday, May 7, Beltre — presumably in his prime at age 30 — was hitting .207 with 12 runs batted in and no home runs. So do the math. It projects to .207, zero home runs and 67 RBIs for the season.

The manager hasn’t yet said whether he intends to leave Beltre in either the fourth or fifth position of the lineup, where the infielder has labored with futility all season. Nor would moving Beltre to, say, the seven hole miraculously make Seattle a better scoring team. Even the best players have failed in key situations, as was the case on Monday, May 4. Seattle lost to Texas when, in the ninth, Ichiro Suzuki lamely lined out to center on the first pitch with the potential go-ahead and winning runs on base.

Adding to the woes have been persistent injuries to Seattle pitchers. Ironically, perhaps the healthiest thrower is Carlos Silva, who nonetheless has been spectacularly terrible with a 1-3 record and an earned-run average of 8.48.

The conclusion, then, nearly one-fifth of the way through the ’09 campaign, is that changes will need to come either from the performances of existing players or from imports from the farm system or, eventually, via trades. The club boasts three of the best starters in the American League, but lack of run production is jeopardizing the seasons of Erik Bedard, Felix Hernandez and the above-mentioned Washburn. The possibility exists that the once-promising Seattle Mariners could very quickly turn into a big joke, though, like the one cited above, not a particularly funny one.

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