Coming into the 2008 season, it seemed like everybody was high on the Seattle Mariners. They had acquired Erik Bedard, one of the best pitchers in the American League, and was returning a majority of a roster that made a strong playoff push in 2007.
Now, fast forward a little over a week into the season, fresh off a sweep at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles, panic has began to set in. What is wrong with this team? Was the Bedard trade worth it?
Simply put, the Mariners will be fine. All of the Mariners troubles can be traced back to a single pitch in the second game of the season. All-Star closer JJ Putz had been called in to save his second game in two days against the Texas Rangers.
While facing shortstop Michael Young, Putz injured his ribs. A pain that was described as having "an icepick stabbed into your side." Young ended up reaching base, and the next batter, Josh Hamilton, launched a ball over the fence giving the Rangers a lead they would not lose. The next day Putz was placed on the fifteen-day disabled list, and the Mariners have gone 1-4 since.
Despite the current rough patch, this team will be fine. If you look closely at the games since the injury, the bullpen has been the problem. The greatest strength of the 2007 Mariners has suddenly become its greatest problem in 2008. The starting pitching has kept the team in the game, while the bullpen has been terrible, including blowing leads late in their last two games.
However, one should expect this. The bullpen is young, and lacks many players with experience. Putz was their leader, the one who held them together as a group. He led by example with his work ethic and was a rock. Whenever somebody struggled, they knew that Putz would be there to come through in the highest-pressure situations.
So while the recent losing streak should be some cause for concern, it is not in any means a reason to begin panicking. The baseball season is a 162-game marathon, not a sprint. If the starting pitching continues to be as good as advertised, and Putz comes off the disabled list, it should be a good summer in the Pacific Northwest.