The Mariners had not been swept at home in three months, dating back to June 12-14 against the San Diego Padres.
There were similarities to the Mariners back then compared to what they look like these days. Simply put: the Mariners need to score more often.
I keep writing over and over about their streak of 19 straight games in which they have scored in only an inning or two. The math is easy: when you score in three or more innings, there’s a good chance at least one will be for multiple runs and that gets you at least four on the day.
The average pitcher gives up slightly more than four runs, so you usually need to score at least four to have a decent shot at winning. Sure, sometimes, you get away with scoring one run and winning, or two and winning. That works when Felix Hernandez is out there, or when the opponent is a team that can’t score at the best of times.
But to contend in this league, you have to beat the average teams and the good teams, too, and unless you’re scoring at least four or five, that’s not going to happen on too many nights.
“We’ve gotten runners in scoring position, runners on base,” Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders said. “We kind of missed those key hits. Oakland typically runs out good pitches year in and year out. When you run into a good pitcher – a guy who’s locating the ball well, mixing the off-speed and keeping you off-balance – sometimes, you’re going to have trouble hitting those guys.”
Thing is, the Mariners aren’t just having trouble scoring against the “hot” A’s — who had actually lost three in a row coming in — or the truly hot Angels. They also had trouble scoring against a Red Sox team that kept stumbling over itself, versus a Twins team in Minnesota that came a blown ump’s call away from splitting that four-game series in Minneapolis and versus a very bad Indians team on the last homestand.
The M’s averaged 3.87 runs per game in the first half. In the second half, they’ve scored 3.67 runs per contest — warmer weather at Safeco Field and all.
As mentioned earlier in the week, the pitching has carried the team to its 31-23 second half record. But that pitching has slowly reverted to previous run-allowance form as the opponents toughen up a bit.
Seattle gave up 37 runs in nine games — 4.1 per contest — on the homestand. Since the end of the eight-game win streak last month, the pitching has allowed 71 runs in 16 games — 4.4 per game.
So, as you can see, scoring fewer than four runs per contest won’t cut it. Which is why the Mariners have been at a .400 winning percentage since the eight-game winning streak ended and they began playing more series with contenders routinely in the mix. They were a .414 winning percentage team in the first half.
The pitching has held up its end of the bargain. Expecting Felix Hernandez to win 1-0 every time out was ridicuous.
Jason Vargas did OK today, allowing just the three-run Jonny Gomes homer over seven innings. Vargas was more miffed with himself for letting Adam Rosales get a base-hit on a 2-2 curveball with two out and none on to extend the fifth inning.
Coco Crisp followed with a single after that and then Gomes went deep.
“I feel like I’m more than capable of getting him out with my other two pitches,” Vargas said of his pitch to Rosales. “It’s just one of those things you learn from and you tip your hat.”
But Vargas should not have to be lamenting one mistake or two per game. That’s the difference. Which is why the Mariners have to get this offense figured out beyond looking at the year-end won-loss record, or celebrating some August hot streaks against the Twins and Indians.
I asked manager Eric Wedge whether he’s seen the offense revert to some bad habits and he didn’t think they were.
“The at-bats are much more competitive and obviously, we’re getting our fair share of hits most of the time,” Wedge said. “But putting innings together, or more important for me, finishing off innings – I think I’ve said that too many times this year. And that’s what I’m not seeing.”
Wedge hasn’t been seeing it for a while. The Mariners could shrug off a sweep in Chicago as a bunch of one-run losses, but this one was a bit different. They were blown out by the A’s in the first two games — as they were by the Angels to begin this homestand.
Ultimately, the success or failure of this team will ride on its ability to show significant offensive improvement. Right now, based on the numbers, they are about the same as they were in the first half.
Now, the quality of the at-bats? Yes, it does appear to be there in greater frequency than we were seeing earlier. Though they struck out 10 times against Tommy Milone today, they at least chased him by the start of the seventh.
But at some point, those ABs have to translate into tangible results. It probably won’t happen this season. The team is what it is. It won’t lose 100, or 95 and probably not even 90 games. But to contend? More bats are needed. And more improvement from the bats the team is keeping will be needed as well.