The 2008 season brings renewed hope for the Seattle Mariners, and everything seems to reflect back to 2001.
How does this rebuilt starting rotation, which seems deeper one through five than any they’ve ever had, stack up with 2001?
Is it capable of avoiding the pitfalls of a 162-game season?
What about the all-important first two starters, Erik Bedard and Felix Hernandez? Can they be better than what baseball saw in 2001?
Yes, the comparisons with 2001 are there.
But no, we’re not talking about the ‘01 Mariners as the model for World Series success.
Yes, that’s the team that won a major league record-tying 116 games with a rotation of Freddy Garcia, Jamie Moyer, Aaron Sele, Paul Abbott and John Halama.
But does anybody remember the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks?
They accomplished what the Mariners have never achieved, winning the World Series in 2001. They did it with a veteran team anchored by its starting pitching, particularly the first two spots in the rotation.
Randy Johnson won 22 games and pitched 2562/3 innings. Curt Schilling won 21 games and pitched 2492/3 innings. The Diamondbacks rode those two horses to a Series championship in just their fourth season.
If you ask one of the men along for that glorious ride, he’ll say the Seattle Mariners’ starting rotation this year is far ahead of what the Diamondbacks had in 2001.
“Way better,” says Miguel Batista, who went 11-8 for the 2001 Diamondbacks.
Despite leading the Mariners with 16 victories last year, Batista will pitch out of the fifth spot in the rotation this year behind Bedard, Hernandez, Carlos Silva and Jarrod Washburn.
After Johnson and Schilling, the 2001 Diamondbacks were a patchwork pitching staff because of injuries. They used 11 different starters and 22 different pitchers that year.
What made the Diamondbacks special were Johnson and Schilling, who accounted for 47 percent of Arizona’s 92 victories.
Batista says the Mariners have the makings of similar strength with the left-handed Bedard and right-handed Hernandez in the first two spots.
“How many teams do you know that have two fireballers from both sides of the rubber?” Batista asked. “In Arizona, we had power from both sides of the rubber. Johnson and Schilling had more experience than we do, but we’ve got that power from both sides here.
“Sometimes teams have a good 1-2 punch, but they’re both righties or both lefties. With one lefty and one righty, managers always have to take that into consideration. They’ll be thinking to themselves, ‘Tomorrow I’ve got to take the lefties out of the lineup because this guy is pitching and he’s bringing it.’ It forces changes.”
A strong 1-2 pitching punch is a streak-stopper. Oh could the Mariners have used that last year.
They went on six streaks of four or more losses, including two six-game losing streaks, one of seven games and one of nine games.
Hernandez recorded victories that ended three late-season skids, including the Mariners’ only win during their fateful string of 13 losses in 14 games that took them out of the American League West race late in the year.
The 2001 Diamondbacks, who went 92-70 in the regular season, had 19 losing streaks ranging from two to five losses. Schilling won nine games to stop streaks, Johnson three.
The 2001 Mariners were on such a roll from the beginning of the season to the end that they didn’t need one pitcher to halt a streak. It wasn’t until late September that they lost more than two in a row.
What they had were an unspectacular but always solid top three — Freddy Garcia, Aaron Sele and Jamie Moyer — who gave them victories and innings.
All three topped the 200-inning mark and produced a sub-4.00 ERA, although Moyer was the only one to win 20 games. Paul Abbott, who’d never won more than nine games in his career, finished with 17 victories. John Halama, the fifth starter, won 10 games and hasn’t come close to that since.
Current Diamondbacks pitching coach Bryan Price, the Mariners’ pitching coach in 2001, says the M’s rotation this year has four pitchers capable of 200 innings _ Bedard, Hernandez, Silva and Washburn.
What’s not certain is whether the Mariners’ 2008 starters can match the sheer will to win that the 2001 rotation did.
“It was just a great group of guys who were competitors,” Price said. “We’d win eight or 10 in a row, and then we’d lose one and guys would be absolutely pissed.
“We had five guys who every day we felt like would give us a great chance to win. It seemed like the talent was there and, really, it was a matter of staying healthy.”
Fast-forward to 2008 and the Mariners’ current expectations. On paper, this rotation seems stronger one-through-five.
“I’m pretty high on this rotation if we can keep them all healthy and send them out there every five days,” said pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre, who begins his first year with the Mariners. “I really like our club. It looks like we’re going to score enough runs to make our pitchers happy and I’m expecting good things from them. I have pretty high expectations.”
So does Batista, who has Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling and the 2001 World Series champion Diamondbacks as his reference point.
“Felix has a chance to be as good as Schilling was,” Batista said. “Bedard has as good a fastball as Randy had. If they can execute like Schilling and Randy, they can be stars for years to come.”
Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com/marinersblog