There have been some disturbing trends developing with the Mariners that anybody actually watching the games in Houston would easily have picked up on. So, even though the Mariners took three out of four in that series, it was not a happy time because there was a sense that the only thing preventing one of the longest losing streaks Seattle has seen in a while was the pitiful Astros.
In other words, any other team as an opponent, the Mariners would have lost three, if not all four of those Astros games. Fast forward to today and even with Felix Hernandez on the mound, the Mariners could not hold off the Kansas City Royals and took a 3-1 defeat.
“We’ve got a lot of guys here that have got to continue to learn how to play the game,’’ Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “And understand what it takes to win a ballgame.’’
That’s a bit of a departure from the party line out of Mariners HQ in recent years: the one about the Mariners “learning how to win” games.
If they were learning how to win in 2011 and 2012, when such statements were being made, you’d think the guys still here would be ahead of the learning curve by now. But at 13 games under .500, the winning just isn’t there.
The Mariners finally got an extra-base hit in this game — snaping a streak of 22 innings without one — as Abraham Almonte doubled and Brad Miller tripled in the fourth inning. But even with that early lead, the Mariners couldn’t add to it, Hernandez gave it back on three straight hits in the bottom of the frame, then lost it the following inning.
Hernandez left the game in the seventh with a cramp in his side — an area he’s never had trouble with before — but said afterwards he’s fine.
The rest of his team? Not fine.
It’s only Sept. 2 and the Mariners are playing like there’s just a weekend series or so left in their season. There isn’t. And there are not enough rookies on this team for it to be hitting the wall like this. It’s bad enough that Kendrys Morales hasn’t hit a home run in a month and is hitting just .165 over the past 3 1/2 weeks. But there are some others who have gone AWOL in recent days. Dustin Ackley is 0-for-16 since his big four-hit game. Michael Saunders is 2-for-11 on the trip, Justin Smoak now 1-for-12.
“I know we’ve got some young kids out there, but still, the Smoaks, the Ackleys, the Saunders and the Seagers, those guys have been around here for a little bit,’’ Wedge said. “They need to be doing better.’’
Kyle Seager had three of the six Seattle hits in this one and has done well on the trip. But it’s a big final month for him after some prior slumping in August.
“I’ve grouped them all together because they all came up at about the same time,’’ Wedge said. “And some of them are doing better than others but we need to see a little bit more progress out of them.’’
You can’t blame everything on Brad Miller and Nick Franklin and Mike Zunino, in other words.
Yeah, there have been some rookie shortcomings. But not all of the young guys are young. Not in an experience sense. They are supposed to be winning some games now, not fading fast as September begins.
This is what worries Wedge, Jack Zduiencik and everybody else associated with the team. They can read a schedule and see that the caliber of opponent isn’t getting much easier — aside from three more Houston games — the rest of the way.
Now that the Royals have Hernandez out of the way, they are licking their chops at the prospect of a four-game sweep of the Mariners to vault them into the thick of wild-card contention. And if the Mariners keep playing this way, that’s exactly what will happen.
Keep playing this way, a 90-loss season comes next and much of the credibility the team had hoped to restore goes out the window. It’s tough to sell progress to anybody when you lose 90-plus in a year in which you got to play 19 games against an Astros club we just saw stumble all over itself in Houston.
You can keep repeating the party line. Keep spouting off mantras like “Stay the course” but eventually, even in a place as tolerant as Seattle can be with its sports teams, folks are going to scratch their heads and start demanding evidence of the progress outside of a few individual young players.
They will want to see evidence the youngsters can win. And that the people running the show are the most qualified to get that team to the next step.
If not, then anyone new can still keep the good young players already here while looking for those elusive missing pieces. There’s no rule that says it automatically has to be Zduriencik and Wedge. So far, Mariners president Chuck Armstrong and CEO Howard Lincoln have declined opportunities to express in public why Zduriencik and Wedge may be the best men for the 2014 job.
That’s their perogative, I suppose. We’ll just keep watching the games. So will Wedge and Zduriencik. And they’ll hope their team doesn’t play out the string with a month to go. Because given the schedule, that string can quickly become a rope — enough for this regime to hang itself with if things fall completely apart from here.