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May 8, 2009 at 9:29 PM

Mariners facing key early season test of will

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Not much going on down in the clubhouse. The Mariners all know what they’re up against. They just made one of the Twins’ worst starters look like Cy Young and have now dropped five in a row. The Texas Rangers loom after this series and are now 1 1/2 games up on the second-place (for now) Mariners.
Even Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu, up until now a model of patience, seemed to be speaking with greater urgency after this one about the middle of the order needing to step it up.
“It was just one of those games where we’ve got to start getting production out of the middle of the order,” he said.
Wakamatsu placed blame for this loss both on Chris Jakubauskas and also the offense’s inability to get starters any type of early lead. Obviously, he’ll take a look at Jakubauskas and whether he’ll get another start.
“We’ve had some struggles there of late,” he said of the starting pitching, outside of Erik Bedard and Jarrod Washburn this week. “Obviously, we’ve got to get starting pitching that gets us deep into games.”
Jakubauskas chalked it up to his inability to make a key pitch when he had to.
“I just wanted to go out and try to go deep into the game and put up as many zeros as I could and keep out offense in it,” he said.
That’s a whole lot of zeros. Too many for most pitchers, let alone a fifth starter who’s looked a little out of his depth since that two-hitter in Chicago.
Wakamatsu, as we mentioned, is already dealing with the Carlos Silva situation and having two of his five starters now unable to deliver five innings is not a development he needed. But it’s the hand he’s been dealt.
The pitching should — in theory — improve, with Felix Hernandez and Erik Berdard set to go the final two games here. but even they will be hard-pressed to put up the needed zeros for an offense averaging a run per nine innings over its last four contests.
Adrian Beltre, pictured above about to end the game with a strikeout, has a .518 OPS in the heart of the order. Jose Lopez, batting third, has a .646 OPS, while Ken Griffey Jr., moved from No. 3 back to No. 6, is at .670. Even the stellar Russell Branyan has gone 0-for-8 with five strikeouts the past two games.
Branyan said that, even in the 5-0 hole dug by Jakubauskas, the Seattle offense needs the confidence it can get back into the game. It had that confidence earlier last month.
“Just the confidence that your offense can is that potent as well,” he said. “Having that quiet confidence that you can get the runs back.
“We’re just going through a tough stretch right now where each individual is trying to do it all themselves. We get ourselves in poor counts, swing at bad balls early in counts.”
Note that we’re not picking on Yuniesky Betancourt right now. This is a team-wide problem at the moment.
The only saving grace for the M’s is that, as poorly as they’ve played going on two weeks, they are still within spitting distance of the division lead. There is still ample time to pull out of this slump, though the chance to put some real distance between themselves and the Angels before all those injured regulars return is dwindling rapidly.
But until some of these hitting and mound woes are solved, this losing streak seems destined to grow. Right now, the question is, how long can it last? Can this team snap out of it, or will it be like the fatal May of last season, or the 15 losses in 17 tries in August and September of 2007, or the 11 losses in a row that killed any last hopes in 2006?
Only the Mariners know the answer. Keep playing like this, they’ll find out awfully fast.



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