The Mariners badly need this All-Star break as they attempt to turn their season back around beyond the 2.5 runs per game scored and 12-20 record that’s pretty much knocked them out of the race since a dramatic comeback win over the Tampa Bay Rays at home back on June 4.
As I wrote yesterday, this is not a 90-loss team. But it could very well become one if it continues to play this poorly and loses some veteran contributors at the trade deadline.
I don’t think the past week was very representative of what this team offered us before the break.
Here are some of the reasons why the Mariners want to finish this season off with some degree of respectability. The stuff I don’t want to see lost in the shuffle if the season goes downhill from here. There will be people who now, after the fact, maintain that this was really a 75-78 win team all along. And I think that will be selling this squad short. Six days ago, this team was 2 1/2 games out of first place.
So, let’s take a look back at some of the more special moments the Mariners did give us before the collpase of the past week.
Monday, April 11 — Down 7-0 in the seventh and 7-1 in the 8th to the Toronto Blue Jays at Safeco Field, the Mariners rally. They score five in the eighth to close things to within a run, then win it in the bottom of the ninth on a Luis Rodriguez pinch-hit in what was a tremendous at-bat.
Tuesday, April 26 — As nice as the win over Toronto was, it was a once-in-a-season fluke. The Mariners were still 8-15 when they pulled into Detroit barely averaging three runs per game of offense. In fact, since the Toronto game, they’d scored three runs or fewer in 10 of 13 contests. Then, they went to Detroit and whupped the Tigers 7-3. They’d go on to score 24 runs in three games at Comerica Park — the first sign of sustained offense and extra-base power all season — and win two more at Fenway Park to change the course of their season.
Photo Credit: AP
Thursday, May 5 — Jason Vargas holds the Texas Rangers to one run over 7 2/3 innings at Safeco Field to eventually secure a 3-1 win and series victory. The M’s were still a last-place team, but closed to within three games of the division lead and — for the first time — you started to wonder whether they actually could take a run at the top.
Thursday, May 19 — The Mariners had suffered a terrible string of losses on the road in Baltimore and Cleveland and were having trouble scoring runs, dropping two of three at home to the White Sox. But the Angels came to town for a two-game series and — after a shutout in the opener — the Mariners were deadlocked 1-1 in the ninth of the finale when Carlos Peguero hit a routine flyball to center that simply got lost in the sun. The M’s won the game, closed back to within 3 1/2 of the division lead and baseball life was worth living again.
Sunday, May 22 — Erik Bedard capped off a 6-1 victory in which Seattle pitching waltzed into San Diego and completely destroyed the Padres’ hitters. Sure, it was the Padres. But the Mariners actually managed to score four or more runs in every game played that series and showed just where minimal offense could take them with a pitching staff that good. Bedard’s performance gave Mariners starters a mark of nine straight games of at least seven innings pitched and two runs or fewer allowed. Last team to do that? The 1988 San Francisco Giants.
Monday, May 23 — Down 7-4 in the eighth inning at Minnesota — the starting pitchers’ mark of nine straight seven-inning quality starts out the window — the Mariners rally to tie it up. In extra innings, Michael Saunders makes his biggest contribution of the season by stealing second base in the ninth, not getting doubled off on an ensuing lineout, then scoring on a Carlos Peguero single. Seattle wins it in the 10th on a Luis Rodriguez sacrifice fly. Seattle takes two of three to move within 1 1/2 games of first place with the Yankees coming to town.
Saturday, May 28 — After rallying to beat New York in the opener, the Mariners and Felix Hernandez are down 3-1 early in Game 2, but score three in the fourth to retake the lead. New York ties it in the seventh, setting the stage for a tremendous bullpen battle. This is the game where Miguel Olivo busts his face open diving into first base in extra innings. Adam Kennedy finally wins it in the 12th off Mariano Rivera with a bloop single to center. Seattle’s bullpen of Jamey Wright, Aaron Laffey, Brandon League and David Pauley toss five shutout innings of three-hit ball, leaving the M’s a half-game out of first place.
Sunday, June 5 — Seattle is trying to take three of four at home versus the Rays, but blows a 5-3 lead in a three-run top of the eighth. But then, in the bottom of the inning, Adam Kennedy hits a tying single and Miguel Olivo steps up and clubs a two-run homer to send the M’s en route to a 9-6 win. The Mariners remain only 2 1/2 games out of first place.
Sunday, June 12 — The M’s struggled all week on a road trip to Chicago and Detroit, scoring more than three runs only once to go 2-4 in the first six games. Then, in the finale in Detroit, Felix Hernandez falls behind 2-0 in the first two innings. Hernandez guts his way through the remainder of his eight-inning performance, bending but not breaking. Miguel Olivo finally gets Seattle on the comeback trail with a home run in the fifth, then later adds another as the M’s erupt in the final innings for a 7-3 victory that leaves them 1 1/2 games out of first place despite a poor offensive week. It becomes painfully obvious at this point that the team will need to add a bat — most likely from outside the organization — sooner rather than later if it hopes to stay in contention.
Sunday, June 19 — Philadelphia is in town and Safeco Field is buzzing for the first two games in which the teams split a pair of pitching battles. In the finale, in front of 45,462 on Father’s day, Jason Vargas tosses the game of his life, holding the Phils scoreless in a three-hit, complete-game shutout the M’s finally break open on a Justin Smoak bloop single in the sixth and another RBI from Adam Kennedy on a pinch-hit blooper versus a tough lefty. Seattle closes to within a half-game of first place Texas. This is as close as the M’s will get to the division lead the remainder of the first half.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
The Mariners, after that Phillies series, were still running on offensive fumes. But other than minor league call-ups (Dustin Ackley was added in that Phillies series) the team did not add anyone from outside the organization.
Seattle’s fall from the top began, oddly enough, on a night it took a 5-1 lead into the ninth inning in Washington, DC its very next game after the Phillies series. The Nationals scored five in the ninth to win and Seattle was never the same.
It’s not so much that one game that caused the collpase. More like everything that happened after it with the offense.
The Mariners have played 15 games since that devastating loss. They reached the five-run mark only once again in a 6-0 win over San Diego. They scored three runs or fewer in 12 of the 15 games that followed.
The offense that had long been running on fumes finally caught up to the team. And the outstanding pitching faltered just a little and could no longer do enough to secure close victories.
But make no mistake.
This was not the typical first half of a 90-loss team, no matter what is said in hindsight. The Mariners, thoughout the first half, found ways to win games late, found ways to get it done despite the minimal offense that has plagued them for three years running.
They just couldn’t keep doing it forever. And in one five-game stretch this past week, it all went “poof!”
But let’s not forget those moments with any “They are what we thought they were!” talk. This team has been so much more than folks thought they were.
And now, if they want people to remember that, they’ll have to find a way to stay afloat in the second half. They can start by scoring more than two or three runs per game.