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April 21, 2013 at 6:09 PM

Mariners face an early crossroads in their season

There are many ways in which a season can go for a baseball team and the level of talent often indicates just when that crossroads might come that will separate a pleasant campaign from a miserable one. Last year, you’ll remember, the Los Angeles Angels got off to a miserable start in April, then caught their breath in May and — though they underachieved for a good part of the second half later on — still finished with 89 wins.

The Mariners are not the Angels. They don’t have nearly that kind of talent level.

This is a team of .500 or so talent that, if things broke right and they overachieved a bit, might think of winning 85 or even a few more games. After all, that’s what the 2009 Mariners did and they weren’t any better than this squad.

But talking to players all spring long, they quietly discussed the need to get off to a strong start and survive a particularly tough first two months of the schedule. So far, the Mariners have not done that. And at 7-13, having been trounced 11-3 today, they are in real danger of digging themselves a hole here that they could spend the next several months digging out of.

The reason for that is, the schedule doesn’t offer many breaks. They have the Angels in for four games next weekend and you just know that club — off to their own rough beginning — is going to want to use the Mariners as a springboard to better things.

First off, the Mariners have to right themselves, beginning this next series in Houston. The Mariners have not won a series all year and this would be a great place to start.

The offense, collectively, has to do a better job all around.

“We kind of crashed as a team offensively after being really good if you go back to spring training and the beginning of the season,’’ Mariners manager Eric Wedge said after this one. “I mean, for a good couple of months there, we had a pretty good stretch going for most of our guys and they kind of all crashed together.

“So, now, they’ve got to pick themselves up and get it back going the other way. If we do, then we should have a chance to do some good things.’’

The Mariners were barely competitive in this series, despite the close scores until the midway point of all three games. They were outscored 23-3 overall, narrowly missing becoming the first team in history to score two runs or fewer in a three-game series at The Ballpark.

They struck out 11 more times today, 32 times in the series and have whiffed 63 times their last five games.

“I’m upset, to say the least, with our approach with two strikes,’’ Wedge said. “It’s something that’s been addressed, something that has to be better. The strikeouts are ridiculous. We’re much better than that.’’

And he’s right. Unless the entire front offive swung and missed at their prospect targets the way the Mariners keep doing on pitches, this young core should be much better than what we’re seeing. The veteran players, as well, are all better than this.

I spoke to Michael Morse post-game, briefly, to ask about his hand and he was so miffed at what’s been going on with the offense that he preferred not to say anything. He said he doesn’t want to use his broken finger as an excuse and that players have to get over injuries and be productive.

Fair enough. Right now, Morse is batting .125 with zero home runs his first six games back after hitting .291 with six homers his first 10 games.

Kendrys Morales is down to .235 on the season and hasn’t done much of anything lately.

There’s your middle of the order.

Right now, you’ve got Brendan Ryan at .160, Dustin Ackley at .161 — meaning the bottom of the order is a huge black hole — while Justin Smoak is at .188 and still homerless. Jesus Montero is back to riding the bench more than he plays and the only regular doing much of anything these days is Seager.

He’s now riding a 10-game hitting streak.

“We’re still going to have a good offense,’’ Seager insisted. “You go through your ups and downs over the course of a season. It’s a long season. So, we’re going to have a good offense. Nobody in here is questioning that.’’

Perhaps not, but a whole bunch of folks on the outside now are. They want to know what happened to the team and approach so visible in spring training. Was it a mirage? The Mariners say no. If they’re wrong about that, this season will go off the rails in a hurry. Right now, they have to right themselves and at least try to stabilize things until Michael Saunders gets back.

It’s not just this one season at stake. If the Mariners fail to hit on more than a player or two in their young core, this rebuild will likely take several more years to complete.

Like I said, we’re now three weeks into a season of 26. The Mariners have some work ahead if they don’t want to be rendered irrelevant less than a fifth of the way in. Time to do more than they have to this point. The schedule won’t be their friend after this next series.

Comments | More in game analysis | Topics: kyle seager; dustin ackley; justin smoak; eric wedge

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