Once again, the season isn’t over for the Mariners but games like this one are not the kind the Mariners can give away if they hope to play relevant baseball come June 1. At this rate, the entire city might be over this 8-14 squad come May 1, with a four-game set against the Angels looming this weekend.
Tonight, we saw the continued impact of the Franklin Gutierrez and Michael Saunders injuries come back to haunt the club yet again. Raul Ibanez has played the outfield far too much already and looked every bit his 40 years of age on that double in the first inning.
Stranding five guys on base his first two times up didn’t help the cause either. His batting average is down to .160 and though he did put good wood on at least one ball tonight, there just have not been enough of them for a guy hitting in the No. 6 spot.
Combine that with the lack of speed at the top of the order with Saunders and Gutierrez out and it’s hard not to view this as a real clunker of a slow team. Endy Chavez has been getting on, but Brendan Ryan has become an automatic out in the No. 9 spot — which eliminates the speed in front of Chavez later on in games. Then, no offense to Kyle Seager, but he’s no speed demon in the No. 2 spot even though he has gotten on with his 12-game hitting streak.
Kendrys Morales had a home run tonight and his hitting has picked up, but Michael Morse — despite two hits tonight — has not been the presence he was early on.
“The at-bats are definitely getting better,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said of the team as a whole. “And we did have a lot of hard outs. We did have a lot of long outs. But we’ve still got to do better than that. I do think we have guys headed in the right direction. I think that’s obvious by thew quality of at-bats. But having said that, it’s all about winning and losing.
“We’ve got to do a better job of winning ballgames. We tried really hard tonight to keep it at three runs. Getting (Hisashi) Iwakuma out when we did and matching up with the guys down there. The bullpen did a great job. It’s still not the consistency we need to have.”
Wedge won’t say it out loud, but he’s finding himself more and more handcuffed by this roster as the days go by.
Tonight, he pinch-hit for Ryan with Robert Andino in the seventh, only to see Andino stare at a called third strike. Ryan is hitting .143 while Andino is down to .161.
Andino also struck out to end the ballgame. The Mariners could have pinch-hit for him, but were limited because there are no other shortstops on the roster and they would have had to put Seager there and move Morse to third base.
That, and I’m sure Wedge would like to get Andino going in a more regular pattern of usage since — with Ryan’s continued plate struggles — it’s looking more and more like Andino will be in there more frequently than a typical backup. I can envision the Mariners also calling somebody up in May like Carlos Triunfel or, perhaps eventually, Brad Miller.
As for the outfield, the options are limited until Saunders returns and that may go a few days beyond Friday’s earliest date for him to come off the DL. The last thing this team needs is for Saunders to aggravate his injury and miss several more weeks.
The Mariners won’t be able to handle that. They’ve gotten a stellar effort from Endy Chavez so far but they’re pushing about the limit they can go with him as a full-time player these days.
As for the decision to intentionally walk Carlos Pena to get to Justin Maxwell with the bases loaded, Wedge told me it was because he liked the matchup. Not the righty-on-righty thing, just the types of pitches Iwakuma throws versus the swing pattern by Maxwell.
“It’s just specifics of the way he swings and the way Kuma pitches,’’ Wedge said. “I don’t want to get too in-depth on it, but it was just a better matchup for us. Kuma’s not somebody you worry about walking. For that matter, you don’t worry about him actually hitting anybody, but that’s what happened there.’’
We saw Justin Smoak take that slider to deep center tonight and that was an encouraging sign because the team needs better at-bats from the younger players to compensate for the older ones who are out or not performing.
“It was a slider and I hit it well, but I just didn’t really get all into it,’’ Smoak said. “I finally stayed on a slider and was able to hit it up the middle but had nothing to show for it.’’
Smoak did have two hits outside of that at-bat as he works to slow things down and not be so anxious when he’s up there.
But anyhow, the time for moral victories is fast fading. It still isn’t time for panic, but there should be a sense of urgency creeping in for these players. They are not getting it done nearly enough and they don’t have the raw talent to dig themselves out of a gigantic-sized hole.
Another season of 90 or so losses should not be acceptable from this squad. To avoid it, they’ll have to play better baseball and start to get the job done when it needs to be done. Hard hit balls are nice, but they weren’t all hit hard. And there wasn’t much hit by Seattle from the fifth inning on.
Plenty of teams hit hard versus the Astros. But those teams also win their games against Houston more often than they lose.
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