Sure, there were positives to take from this game, starting with the two-homer game from Kendrys Morales, the three-hit night by Brad Miller and all those runs again piled on by the Mainers — who have scored 19 in two games.
On the downside, one of their all-star pitchers, Hisashi Iwakuma, looks better suited to toss the Home Run Derby right now than the Mid-Summer Classic itself. That’s three more long balls allowed by Iwakuma tonight, eight in his last three starts and 10 in his last four outings. Yes, there is some kind of problem here.
“For the most part, I was missing location-wise,’’ Iwakuma said, through interpreter Antony Suzuki. “I caught too much of that part of the plate and that was the main issue today.’’
And the last month or so?
“I think my pitches have caught too much of the plate the last couple of starts,’’ Iwakuma said. “I need to work on that. I know I have time to make some adjustments and that’s what we need to do.’’
Well, he may have time to make those before his next outing. But the Mariners are running out of time to make this season into something more than just another training session for kids. They had generated all sorts of positive momentum coming off that road trip and after blowing the Red Sox off the field on Monday night. Then, they gave Iwakuma a 5-1 lead by the second inning of this one and…he tossed it away. Like so many others the Mariners have junked with an ace or a closer on the mound.
This team doesn’t have that many wins to spare. It struggles to win more than two in a row at the best of times because guys aren’t getting the pitching and the hitting synched up. We can point the finger at injuries and say this team hasn’t had a full compliment of players all year, but the truth is that Raul Ibanez’s numbers have more than offset the loss of full-timer Michael Morse. Franklin Gutierrez hasn’t stayed healthy since 2009 and the really gut-wrenching losses this year have by-and-large been as a result of the work of healthy-pitchers.
Tonight’s game had nothing to do with injuries. It had to do with a veteran starter not getting it done and the bullpen following suit.
David Ortiz stole a base off an otherwise preoccupied Carter Capps in the eighth inning. It’s nice that Capps was trying to work his slider in more, but the basics of the game call for you to look the runner back to first from time to time, not merely focus on getting your work in like it’s spring training. That’s been part of the problem here in Seattle the past few years, where games by July tend to mean so little in the standings that the MLB club serves as a young player schooling ground instead of a finished product you charge full price to watch.
Which is great, except the fans in the stands — and the ones who write in to me daily and phone in on radio — were actually excited about the team of the past week because it showed signs of winning again and let them think that maybe, just maybe, this summer could be more interesting. Well, I suppose it will be until August, when football training camp opens and all except a few diehards stick around to watch a team groom players for 2014, 2015 and beyond.
But for a team to hold anyone’s interest for more than a week or two beyond July — as the Mariners did for a mild streak last August that turned out to be just another tease that meant little — you have to be able to win games with some consistency. The Mariners instead keep giving away the ones they should be locking up and that’s all part of learning how to win. It’s not just about collecting stats.
Even after Iwakuma bailed three innings into this game, the Mariners still took a 7-6 lead and had a shot at winning after chasing ineffective Boston starter Allen Webster just 2 1/3 innings in and getting some hits off the first reliever who followed. But then Craig Breslow came on, shut the Mariners down for the most part and wound up earning the win.
Blake Beavan came on for Seattle — having not pitched in nine days — and gave up a run in the fourth, then another in the fifth. After that, Capps, Charlie Furbush and company allowed three more runs in the eighth to turn a close one into an easy ninth-inning save opportunity for Boston.
“Today, we just couldn’t get anybody out and guys struggled in the bullpen,’’ Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “They did, too, but when they went to their middle inning guys, they got guys out and that was the difference in the ballgame.’’
Look, I get the whole rebuilding thing and that it takes time for some players to progress. But wins and losses are part of any development plan and this team — if it keeps tossing wins away — will take a step backward in overall record from last year and that’s not development. That’s regression, especially when the bar was so low to begin with.
The Mariners lost tonight because the veteran starting pitcher they extended by two years to help them win did not get the job done. And because a bullpen that was supposed to be a team strength again didn’t do the club any real favors.
When that happens, it has to be called as such. There has to be disappointment in losing games that should be won or else you’ll wind up with a nice team of stat collectors that wins a few games when it’s safe enough — meaning they’ve fallen too far back to have any real pressure on them — and can’t nail that door shut when it actually matters. This team has had plenty of chances to be close to a .500 club despite all of the injury setbacks. The reason it is 10 games under .500 is because of a penchant for losing games that are imminently winnable, as this one was tonight.
Losing those games doesn’t make you a better winner later on. Winning those games does. Until this team figures out how to make its own life easier a lot more often, none of the short-lived momentum gained this year will carry over by any meaningful extent next season. So, no, you can’t just shrug this one off as another loss by a rebuilding team. Losing has become too acceptable around these parts going on a decade and five years into this plan, it’s not too early to expect all of that waiting to have yielded a club that knows how to keep momentum going longer than 48 hours at a time.
And when it can’t do it, can’t get the job done, it’s OK to call the team out on it. This team had expectations this year, but at 10 games below .500, they have not beeen met. This team had expectations coming into tonight after a 5-2 week, then promptly blew a 5-1 lead with arguably their best starter on the mound.
Sense a pattern? Only the Mariners can break it. And it starts by being ticked off that they blew yet another game they had in the palm of their hands.
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