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Did Yuniesky Betancourt cost the Mariners Stephen Strasburg?

Jun 11, 2010, 1:14 PM EDT

Betancourt Mariners.jpgTom Verducci reminds us today that, but for two games, it would have been the Mariners who would have had the worst record in baseball in 2008 and thus the Mariners — and not the Nationals — who would have had the right to select Stephen Strasburg.  Specifically, going into the final two games of the season, the Mariners had lost 101 ballgames and the Nats had lost 100.  Then something unexpected happened: Yuniesky Betancourt decided to temporarily stop sucking:

That’s when Yuni decided to hit like a young Ken Griffey, Jr. He went 5-for-7 with a walk, two runs and two RBI to lead the Mariners
to 7-3 and 4-3 wins over Oakland. The Nationals clinched the Strasburg
sweepstakes by losing two games to Philadelphia.

Those two
otherwise meaningless Seattle wins changed baseball history. It could be
one of the most costly “collapses” ever to end a season. The Mariners
would be looking at a rotation today with Felix Hernandez, Cliff Lee and Strasburg.

That’s a nice story, but as is usually the case, there is more to it.

For one thing, the Nationals were facing the future World Champion Philadelphia Phillies that last weekend. Philly clinched on Saturday, so they had Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and everyone else out there for that penultimate game (and in that Sunday game the Nationals themselves trotted out what was basically an American Legion lineup, thus negating the fact that Philly rested its regulars). Meanwhile the Mariners were playing an Athletics team that was far worse at the point of the season than their overall record suggested, having basically tanked the entire second half.

And let’s not just blame Bentancourt.  Indeed, in the second to last game of the year, several Mariners knocked the cover off the ball: Kenji Johjima had three RBI and Wladimir Balentein and Miguel Cairo of all people each had a couple of RBI.  They got a rare good performance from R.A. Dickey in the season’s last game and Johjima hit the ball well again that day too.  It was a team effort.

At the time I wrote “The final failure of Seattle’s failed 2008 season was winning this game,
thereby ensuring that Washington will get the first pick in next
summer’s draft.”  And, technically speaking that was correct.  But the “failure” had many authors.

And in a larger sense, wasn’t it better for Seattle to go down in a blaze of glory than to have them tank like some NBA team?  I’m not sure I could keep my love for a team that blatantly laid down for a draft pick. Could you?

  1. Dan W - Jun 11, 2010 at 1:39 PM

    For a Franchise altering, once in a lifetime pitcher, I could keep the love…for Matt Bush or Brian Bullington…no.

  2. Scott - Jun 11, 2010 at 1:39 PM

    So I’m not allowed to root for the Nats after sending out an “American Legion” lineup that final day? More importantly, how do you differentiate an American Legion lineup from a 2008 Nationals lineup?

  3. Craig Calcaterra - Jun 11, 2010 at 1:46 PM

    The presence of Ryan Zimmerman would have helped.
    Not saying the Nats laid down. They were a painfully bad team playing the World Series champs. Even if Philly played scrubs, their scrubs were better.
    I just don’t feel comfortable making a scapegoat of Yuniesky Betancourt fo actually playing some decent baseball for a change.

  4. Sam OCR - Jun 11, 2010 at 1:56 PM

    At least Dustin Ackley is one pretty awesome consolation prize, perhaps the Mauer to this draft’s Prior. If anyone is to blame for losing Strasburg, it might be Kevin Kouzmanoff. He went 5 for 13 with a homer and two doubles, three walks, four RBI and scored a 14th-inning winning run to help the Padres sweep Nationals Sept 19-21. That was the series that cost the Padres (99 losses) the Strasburg Pennant, and left them stuck with Donovan Tate.

  5. Scott - Jun 11, 2010 at 1:56 PM

    I know… I’m not offended, my comment was tongue-in-cheek.
    I had forgotten about that though, and at the time I don’t remember considering the possibility that they tanked on purpose. It looks possible in retrospect. If I wasn’t a Nats fan I might say “possible” is an understatement.
    But I saw Strasburg in person, so I’m closing my eyes, covering my ears and shouting “LALALALA”.

  6. Farid - Jun 11, 2010 at 1:57 PM

    They didn’t lay down–they didn’t try to lose. It’s common for team’s out of contention to play rookies/reserves. That’s just baseball.
    The very next season, against the Braves on the last day of the season, the Nationals (who already owned the #1 pick in 2010) started Justin Maxwell, Ian Desmond, Jorge Padilla, Josh Bard and Alberto Gonzalez.
    No Adam Dunn. No Ryan Zimmerman. No Cristian Guzman.
    It’s just baseball.

  7. Ken - Jun 11, 2010 at 2:10 PM

    I find it highly unlikely they would have traded for Lee if they had Strasburg. Poor assumption.

  8. Pete - Jun 11, 2010 at 2:11 PM

    As a Mariner fan who has been living in pain of the torment of this the last 21 months, HELL NO it was not better to have them win 3 meaningless games.

  9. Scott - Jun 11, 2010 at 2:20 PM

    The fact you listed Cristian Guzman as one of our core players just sent shivers down my spine.
    How exactly does a guy hit .301 and manage only a .326 OBP anyway? I think even I could manage 7 walks in 200AB

  10. Jeremy - Jun 11, 2010 at 2:27 PM

    All the games count. The first two games the Mariners won in April 2008 contributed just as much to them losing out on Strasburg as the last two games they won to end the season. Just because those April wins couldn’t be recognized as meaningless at the time doesn’t mean they were any less important in determining the Mariners’ draft position.
    Also: what Ken said.

  11. scatterbrian - Jun 11, 2010 at 3:05 PM

    My thoughts exactly. They may have gone after someone who could actually hit instead of scooping up Lee.
    Most baseball writers have a blind spot when it comes to chaos theory.

  12. Farid - Jun 11, 2010 at 3:30 PM

    If a guy hits .200 and is one of your best players, the fact that he sucks doesn’t make him any less valuable to that team.
    But, yes, having Cristian Guzman as an important part of your team says a lot. He would have been perfect as a #8 batter, someone who wasn’t counted on to do anything at all.

  13. Farid - Jun 11, 2010 at 3:34 PM

    Oh, and by the way — I lived in Seattle in the late 70′s and early 80′s, when guys like Richie Zisk and Dan Meyer were the best-of-the-best.
    That was a tough time, watching these guys lose game after game inside of that horrible stadium.
    We had a top pick one year (early 80′s) and were all set to draft Kirk Gibson, but the owner was poor and didn’t want to spend the money on him. Ended up drafting (I think it was) Al Chambers, a guy who never did a thing at the major league level.
    So, you Mariners’ fans of today have it better than we did!

  14. ryandevilhorns - Jun 11, 2010 at 3:57 PM

    If I’m Billy Beane, I ORDER my team to tank the last two games of the year just to make sure that Seattle has to win and therefore cannot lose enough to clinch the first spot in the draft. That has to have at least crossed his mind that last week of the season.

  15. dBall - Jun 11, 2010 at 7:02 PM

    Typical Mariners. Even on the rare occassion when they win, they really lose.
    Go buy more overpriced Japanese stars, Seattle!

  16. mike - Jun 12, 2010 at 12:29 PM

    pointless conversation/comments….. pointless article……..

  17. carlm - Jun 13, 2010 at 1:19 AM

    DOes anyone know who managed the M’s to “win” those pointless games? Jim Rigglemen. Whats he doing these days???

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