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June 24, 2013 at 10:33 AM

Mariners playing like .500 team…just one Cleveland series short

Funny, because if you thought the Mariners were a .500 team at the start of the year, nothing we’ve seen the past month changes any of that. Since the end of that eight-game losing streak in May, the Mariners have  gone 14-14.

That’s .500 ball.

In fact, the Mariners were a game under .500 when that eight-game losing streak began.

So, really, other than that eight-game stretch, this has been a .500 team. I guess this means we can blame that one four-game series in Cleveland for scuttling the entire season, right? Sweep that series instead of getting swept and this is pretty much a .500 team, right? Right?

Wrong.

I was just joking with that last bit. That isn’t how it works. Even .500 teams have got to be able to go on a winning streak at some point to offset the inevitable losing streaks. And this Mariners squad hasn’t done that yet. In fact, this club has yet to win four games in a row.

And that’s why they’ve done this little dance between eight-and-10 games under .500 going on one month now. That’s why, when they fell 11 under .500 by blowing that Felix Hernandez game in Anaheim, they pretty much sealed their fate.

Now, they’ve won two in a row and are back to nine under. But they’ll eventually lose again and the dance will continue.

Inconsistency is a hallmark of any .500 team that loses as many games as it wins and these Mariners have yet to disappoint in that regard the past month. First, it was the back end of the starting rotation causing all the problems because the offense was actually doing rather well.

Then, the offense wore out and key players got hurt and were kept in the lineup every day. Maybe because there simply wasn’t anyone worthy of replacing them in Class AAA and the team figured it was better to have Michael Morse and Kendrys Morales limping and aching their way to the plate rather than the cardboard cutouts that would have replaced them.

That raises a whole bunch of other questions regarding this rebuilding plan, but we’ll leave those for another time.

But suffice to say, when that offense began averaging 2.5 runs per game on the last road trip, not even a dramatic turnaround by the starting rotation was going to be enough to save the Mariners.

Well, Morse is finally on the 15-day DL where he belongs and Morales just hit his first home run in the month of June.

The rotation keeps on pitching. Is the season over? Probably. The Mariners needed to have a winning road trip last week, especially after starting it off 2-0. Instead, they finished it 3-4, dropping four of five.

But I’ll keep inserting the same caveat: the season isn’t over if this team can finally reel off a sustained winning streak. Win the next six in a row and all of a sudden, the season dynamic changes. All of a sudden, you’re right back near .500, having played .500 ball or better going on five weeks. And it would only be July 1. Then, the conversation switches from “Who are we going to dump by July 31?” to “Can we get back in this thing?”

Now, don’t worry. I haven’t gone soft on you. I realize the Mariners buried themselves last week. And in all those games blown by Tom Wilhelmsen. I realize that any time you need a team to win eight in a row, or 10 of 12, to get back in a race, then you’ve pretty much crossed the point of no return.

The only difference with this year’s Mariners team — as opposed to previous ones that knocked themselves out of contention by May or June — is what I just mentioned. This is a better team than those prior ones. I don’t care what the stats say, or what folks “predicted” back in March.

Those making the predictions in March that this was a sub-.500 team felt the young core would be OK and the veterans would pretty much stink. They didn’t predict that Raul Ibanez would lead the team in homers halfway through the year. Or that Jason Bay would be leading off. They didn’t predict Michael Saunders would fall apart or that Jesus Montero and Dustin Ackley would be in AAA. Or that Tom Wilhelmsen might soon join them. Or that Jeremy Bonderman would put together the best starting stretch of his career results-wise. Or that Felix Hernandez would fall apart in a critical game his team had to win. Come to think of it, Hernandez brought sub-par stuff and failed to win two other big games that would have stopped last month’s losing streak. Anybody predict that?

Pretty much every dire pre-season prediction about this team involved a series of circumstances going the exact opposite way of how this season has gone. So, find me somebody who called this season accurately, I’d love to meet them.

As for me, I thought this team would be better than this. Was I wrong? You bet I was, as any look at the standings will tell you.

And this team will probably still be sub-.500 when the season ends.

But keep this in mind. From a point of sheer potential, this team is better than anything the Mariners have put on the field since 2007.

They have underperformed that potential — by a gaping margin.

But because of that potential, I would still not completely rule out their ability to go on a sustained streak. The offense began coming around again this weekend. Get the offense and pitching going at the same time and we’ve already  seen that this team can play hard and actually beat contenders.

The other clue we have that this team is better than prior editions is everything I’ve just said. It’s been a .500 team going on a month. It was a game under .500 for the season before that one losing streak.

This team has consistently won as many games as it has lost all season long except for that one week. If it wants to offset that and be able to make us forget the last road trip, forget that this season looks like a write-off and forget every bad thing written about them up to now, there is only one thing to do.

And that is: have a week where they don’t lose a game. Then, keep playing like they have the past month.

Do that and the goal of a .500 record and changing the front office’s approach to the trade deadline is not out of the question. That deadline is five weeks away. Any serious trade talks are probably a few weeks away.

But the Mariners have to make their move at some point. Right now? Good a time as any with some NL squads coming in.

Am I banking on the Mariners doing it? Nope.

A “don’t bet the Mariners” philosophy has never done me wrong up to now. This team continuously falls short of expectations, even though the bar has been set amazingly low for it going on several years. If the Mariners want folks to believe, then they will have to show something to justify the belief.

All I’m telling you this morning is, a winning streak is what this team needs to offset that one Cleveland series and that one week that has turned this from a .500 season into a disaster.

Is this team capable of such a streak? I believe it is. But it’s running out of time to put one together. As of right now, I’m assuming Mariners are in “seller” rather than “buyer” mode if any July deals are made.

If the Mariners don’t like me saying that, they’re welcome to change our minds. They have the capability. But talk is cheap. And there really isn’t much time left before July decisions need to be made.

Comments | More in analysis | Topics: felix hernandez; raul ibanez; jeremy bonderman; tom wilhelmsen

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