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Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

April 11, 2013 at 12:01 PM

Astros’ series dented preseason optimism

Photo by Associated Press

Photo by Associated Press

When they showed Seahawks coach Pete Carroll (pictured above) on the big screen last night, he got the second-biggest ovation of the night. The biggest, of course, was the dude who caught a foul ball with his beer cup, then guzzled the beer, with the ball still in it, as the liquid dribbled onto his shirt. A true American hero.

The Mariners game itself? The few fans that were there — a record low crowd at Safeco for the second night in a row, but probably not for the last time this season — were understandably restless as they watched the Mariners scuffle through a second straight loss to the Astros.

In the big picture, of course, these games are a drop in the bucket of a 162-game season. The Mariners are two games under .500, and they have a better record than the Angels, the pick of many people to win the division. This is still the feeling-out portion of the season, and no team’s fate has yet been determined. Including the Mariners.

Yet timing is everything,  and the Mariners picked a very bad time to have a very bad series. There’s something about losing two out of three to an Astros team that is supposed to be historically awful to bring back out all the snark, cynicism, anger and vitriol that had been stored away for the winter by Mariner fans. And I understand the frustration, especially when one of the primary storylines of the preseason was that the presence of the Astros in the AL West for 19 games would be the Mariners’ ticket to finishing above .500. Instead, they made the Astros look like the ’27 Yankees in the final two games as they pounded out 37 hits, including eight homers, and raised their batting average an astounding 64 points.

Another storyline, of course, was that this was going to be a vastly improved Mariners offense, and it still might be. But here are the cold, hard facts after 10 games: The Mariners have sunk right back to their customary spot at the bottom of the offensive rankings in the American League. They are last among 15 teams in batting average (.219), 14th in on-base percentage (.290), 12th in slugging percentage (.395), and 13th in OPS (.646).

What’s really alarming is that the young core — the guys the Mariners hoped would get turned around, and desperately need to — of Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero — are all struggling tremendously. Throw in Kyle Seager, and those four are a combined .135 (17-for-126). The latter three are still looking for their first extra-base hit. It’s belaboring the obvious to say that no offensive can function with four regulars hitting under .150 — even with Michael Morse pounding out six homers. And now Michael Saunders, one of their most consistent performers, may well be headed for the disabled list.

The pitching is also a huge concern, as evidenced by the Mariners’ apparent acquisition today of Aaron Harang. He could replace either Blake Beavan or Brandon Maurer in the rotation — neither has been effective. The Mariners rank 14th in the AL in team ERA at 5.40, which will happen when you give up 25 runs in two games.

With frustration so rampant right now, no one wants to hear about how it’s still early. Especially not when so many key areas of the team are not performing. And even more so when the Mariners put up such a dismaying effort against the Astros. The Astros. I understand how the promise of supposed better times ahead rings hollow. If the Mariners want to change perceptions, and revive the optimism of a strong spring, they’ll need to do it on the field.

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