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June 16, 2013 at 11:56 AM

Mariners need to finish job for a change

Justin Smoak (left) could be activated off the 15-day disabled list tomorrow and help a Mariners offense that's worn down by injury and non-performance of key members. Michael Saunders (right) is not playing today and could be Class AAA-bound once Franklin Gutierrez and Dustin Ackley return in the next week or two. Photo Credit: AP

Justin Smoak (left) could be activated off the 15-day disabled list tomorrow and help a Mariners offense that’s worn down by injury and non-performance of key members. Michael Saunders (right) is not playing today and could be Class AAA-bound once Franklin Gutierrez and Dustin Ackley return in the next week or two. Photo Credit: AP

Today, the Mariners will try — yet again — to complete their first series sweep of the season in what is easily their most important game of 2013 so far.

Blow this chance, with Hisashi Iwakuma on the mound, and the team falls back to eight games under .500. We’ve spoken before about this little dance the team keeps doing between eight-and-10-games-below the break-even point. Well, unless they sweep somebody along the way, they’re going to keep doing it and will run out of time to get their season turned around.

Win today and the Mariners are suddenly only six games under .500. Notch this victory and they can head to Anaheim knowing the only way they won’t have a winning road trip is if they get swept in that four-game series. More likely, a win here gives the Mariners a legit shot at that surprise 5-2 road trip it really needed to turn this season in a better direction. Heck, even 6-1 would not be impossible at that stage, but it all starts right here. Too many times the past month, the Mariners have let games like this slip away.

There was that 16-inning loss to Chicago instead of the sweep. That blown ninth inning to the Astros where the sweep again got away.

All of those losses start to pile up. A game here, another there. Normally, a game in June shouldn’t matter all that much if a team really is a .500 squad. The problem is, the Mariners have buried themselves so deep with all of their botched opportunities — think about that Cleveland series as well — that they really have no margin for error left.

So, with Iwakuma on the mound, the A’s still reeling, no-doubt, from that 18-inning game a few nights ago, the Mariners can’t afford not to finish the job here — for a change. I asked manager Eric Wedge about it this morning and he agreed.

“It does matter,” Wedge said of needing a sweep here. “It does matter. Most definitely. I was talking about it on the drive in today. We need to take this one today. At some point in time, these guys have got to start finishing things off. So, it most definitely matters. Especially when you’re trying to gain ground.”

Whenever I write about these potential momentum-changers in every season, someone inevitably writes back in the comments section about it being just one game in 162. I mean, sure, the Mariners could drop this game and then go and take three of four in Anaheim.

Anything’s possible. Taking this game here only makes the Anaheim task seem imminently more doable. And that’s important from a psychological perspective. Because there is more than just this one game in the standings riding on today.

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For one, the Mariners are playing a game within a game right now in trying to stay afloat until some position player reinforcements arrive. You’ve all seen the offense. Up to now, it’s been carried by Kyle Seager and a bunch of older vets. And it’s gotten progressively worse as the older role players start to wear down from overuse.

But there’s a chance Justin Smoak could be called back up for tomorrow’s game in Anaheim and that’s a first step to more offensive respectability.

Jason Bay was finally given the gift of a day off yesterday, but again, that meant putting the sub-.300 OBP bat of Endy Chavez in there.

Wedge is going to chat with Smoak and team officials in Class AAA today about whether he’s ready to come back and hit from both sides of the plate.

If he is, then that takes some heat off the team by adding a bat capable of getting on base — something Smoak has done very well this season. It also adds another potential first baseman and gives the team the option of sitting Michael Morse or Kendrys Morales for a day here and there.

Morales still can’t play the field because of his back issues and the Mariners have been forced to keep running Morse out at first base even though he can barely run. Alex Liddi — as we’ve written before — is not a viable option for an MLB team that’s already struggling to generate offense. But Smoak is. Once he’s back, the Mariners can look to add Franklin Gutierrez and Dustin Ackley soon after.

Getting both of them back will give the team options if Michael Saunders can’t figure out his game. Saunders is killing this team offensively right now and has forced the team to rely on Chavez and Bay as leadoff hitters. On a daily basis, that’s nuts. But there is no other choice.

Gutierrez can bat leadoff and would help in that regard. Ackley can alternate between center field and the corners to give Gutierrez, Ibanez and Bay more rest when needed.

But we’re still a good week away from any of that becoming reality.

Which is why this team needs to buy itself more time. A sweep here accomplishes that and makes the ultimate goal of a winning road trip — preferably 5-2 over 4-3 — a lot more realistic. Accomplish that goal and the team can focus on narrowing the gap towards .500 before the All-Star-Break. Maybe it all falls apart in July, who knows? But a few days ago, it didn’t look like this team’s season would make it past mid-June without us pulling the proverbial plug on it.

So, yeah, there’s a whole lot riding on this one game. This Mariners team went about as close to the edge of the cliff as is possible without plunging off it. They are still perilously close to that edge, but starting to inch back from it.

Win today, this season becomes a lot more interesting.

0 Comments | More in pregame | Topics: justin smaok; hisashi iwakuma; michael saunders; franklin gutierrez

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