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Daily coverage of the Mariners during the season and all year long.

July 17, 2012 at 10:22 AM

Mariners need to get better at scoring early in games

ADDITIONAL NOTE: If you missed my Talkin’ Baseball segment on Sports Radio KJR with Mitch Levy this morning, you can listen to it in the box above.
Last night’s five-run first inning by the Mariners marked the first time in over four years they have put up that many in the opening frame on the road. And it helped stave off a bit of a trend I’ve noticed in too many of the team’s recent defeats.
The Mariners have trouble scoring at the best of times, that much is clear. But too many of their recent losses just weren’t all that competitive despite what the final score might suggest. Fans of downtrodden teams everywhere like to think that losing games by only a run or two can be a positive sign for the future. And there is some reasoning behind this, since a lucky break or two here or there can easily swing games decided by so slim a margin.
In other words, losing a whole bunch of one, or two-run games should not be all that sustainable statistically.
And for the first two months or so of the season, the close losses the Mariners experienced were indeed in hard-fought games where a break or two really could have swung things. For me, the best example was a series at Tampa Bay at the end of April and in early May, when the M’s lost four consecutive games by a run or two.
In reality, these really were games as close as their scores. They were tight all the way until somebody either made a late pitch or connected for a late hit to seal the win. In the only two-run game of the series, the M’s were down 3-0 early but scored a run in the third and then pitchers from both teams settled in and did their jobs.
Fair enough. But lately, those types of close losses have not been the norm for the M’s. In fact, lately, especially at home, the Mariners have waited far too long to really get into any of the “close” games they’ve played.

For instance, on May 28, they lost 4-2 at Texas in a game they were down 4-1 in by the eighth inning — having failed to score since the opening frame. Is that really all that close a contest? Not really. That’s a team that was pretty much dominated all game and then got a run off a bullpen with plenty of cushion to spare.
Not quite like some of those prior close games. Most teams up by three or more in the eighth will gladly trade a run for precious outs.
We saw this trend towards scoring a lot of late — some might say “meaningless” — runs start to happen a bit more frequently in June and July for the M’s in their “close” losses.
They lost 5-4 to the Padres on June 12, but were down 5-1 in the 9th.
They lost 4-2 to the Giants on June 15 but were down 4-0 in the 8th.
They lost 5-4 to Baltimore on July 3, but were down 4-0 in the 7th and 4-1 in the 8th.
They lost 4-2 to Baltimore on July 4 but were down 4-0 in the 9th.
They lost 3-2 to Texas on July 13 but were down 3-0 in the 9th.
So, that’s five games over the past month or so in which the Mariners lost some “close” games that, in reality, really weren’t all that close. Sure, baseball is a nine-inning game and anything can happen. After all, the Mariners did indeed come back to tie that July 3 game against Baltimore, only to lose it in the 9th. But we’re talking about looking for hopeful trends, not relying on flukes.
And the truth is, teams will lose most of the games in which they are down by three or more runs headed into the eighth inning. The overwhelming majority of them.
The Mariners have also been shut out three times during that same month-long span since June 12. And when you don’t score, it’s impossible to win. Whether you lose 1-0, or 10-0, your hitters were just as competitive.
Back to the close losses in which the M’s did score.
Does run distribution matter? Absolutely. Losing a game in which you were down 3-1 in the third inning as the Mariners were at Tampa Bay 2 1/2 months ago is not the same as losing 3-2 last week to Texas when trailing 3-0 in the ninth.
In the first scenario, the Mariners had another 18 outs left to make up the two-run gap.
In the latter scenario, they had only three outs left to make up a three-run gap.
So, the odds of winning were much better throughout most of the Tampa Bay game than the one against Texas. That’s all I’m saying.
So, if we’re going to talk about the Mariners playing a lot of close games this year, we have to do it with the understanding that not all close games are created equal.
And the bottom line this all boils down to is: a team that waits most of a game to do any serious scoring is not going to win most of the time. The reason the Mariners keep losing games more than they win is because their offense just doesn’t get out of the blocks and stay out of them on too many nights.
There was a 4-2 loss in Chicago on June 3 in which the M’s didn’t get any runs after the second inning. Sort of like the pre-All-Star Break loss to the A’s in which the Mariners waited until the sixth inning to score and then could not manage a run the rest of the way through seven more frames before suffering a walkoff defeat in the 13th.
Same thing in the opener of that series in which Seattle scored a run in the first, then got blanked for 10 innings before losing on another walkoff.
These were all “close” games. But in reality, the M’s weren’t really all that competitive from an offensive standpoint.
Whether it’s scoring a run or two early, then going into hibernation, or waking up in the 8th or 9th down by a 4-0 or 4-1 score, the Mariners’ offense simply has not been able to truly stay competitive in games this season regardless of the final score. That’s why they began last night with the second-worst record in the American League. And I don’t believe its something that will reverse itself in a hurry just by all of those one-or-two-run losses going the other way. Not unless something changes.
To do that, you have to be losing a ton of 4-3 or 5-4 games that were truly close all the way. You can’t have an offense that routinely vanishes for six, seven or eight innings at a time.
So, yeah, an offense that scores more than a run or two the first four innings of a game might be the start to reversing this trend. Last night won’t happen all the time. But until the Mariners can routinely start hitting the baseball with authority and consistency, looking at “close” games doesn’t really tell us anything. They will just be more losses piled on to all the others that came before.



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