Mariners' suddenly slumping season

The team is down to one strength, starting pitching, and that only gets you so far.
The team is down to one strength, starting pitching, and that only gets you so far.

The Seattle Mariners weren'ꀙt half bad during the road trip that ended May 14. They were three-quarters bad, failing at the plate, in the field, and at closing time, when games were on the line. The only phase that gave the club meager hope for salvaging the suddenly slumping season was starting pitching, which gets a team only so far.

Against Texas it got the M'ꀙs as far from first place as they'ꀙve been all season: four and a half games back at 16-19 and facing the Boston Red Sox (21-13 through May 13) three times at Safeco Field this weekend. If that weren'ꀙt enough, the club'ꀙs best lefty starter, Erik Bedard, won'ꀙt be available May 16 due to injury. That means the M'ꀙs will send, in effect, a trio of minor-league starters to the mound against the perennial American League powerhouse. This wouldn'ꀙt be so bad were it not for a Seattle 'ꀜoffense'ꀝ that gets out-hit no matter which opponent shows up.

Thursday the M'ꀙs were ahead 2-0 in the bottom of the ninth. Closer Brandon Morrow faced Hank Blalock, the last man Morrow had battled the night before, when Blalock jerked one into right-center to drive in the tying and winning runs. Blalock merely made it 2-1 Thursday with a top-deck shot on a 3-2 count. Minutes later Chris Davis sent another one yonder and the torrid Rangers offense had final-pitch triumphs twice in a row. Against Texas the M'ꀙs had splendid starting pitching from Jason Vargas, Jarrod Washburn, and especially Felix Hernandez. But they lost 7-1, 6-5 and 3-2 to a team they must beat to have any chance of contending this season.

Oh, and the Rangers outhit Seattle, 32 to 17.

M'ꀙs fans may see a familiar pattern developing, not just from what happens (or doesn'ꀙt) during games but by what the skipper has been saying in the aftermaths of recent foundering voyages of the mediocre ship Mariner. Last year at about this time the jocular John McLaren lost his yuck, stunningly unleashing an X-rated tirade about his gutless ball club. Within weeks all the team'ꀙs key non-roster people (except, of course, upper-management neck-tie types, who never make mistakes) had been scuttled. Rebuilding was commenced, though, a year later, rebirth still hasn'ꀙt quite happened.

After the May 13 loss, current manager John McLaren, er, Don Wakamatsu sounded much like his predecessor. His patience frayed, Wak spoke vaguely of finding other players within the organization to replace the unproductive bunch he has now. Does he mean players at the double-A level? Single-A? Because they sure don'ꀙt seem to be available in Tacoma.

Nor can the field-level management be absolved. After the Thursday loss, Wakamatsu refused to fault closer (well, let'ꀙs be honest, he'ꀙs been more of an 'ꀜopener'ꀝ lately) Morrow. Perhaps this is because the field boss knows he very well could have salvaged the game if he'ꀙd simply let effective eighth-inning guy David Aardsma try to finish the game after setting down Texas in order on 13 pitches.

Morrow, after all, had nearly blown the Sunday game in Minnesota, at one point throwing 10 straight balls as he loaded the bases. He helped the next batter to a full count before coaxing a ground-out to earn the save: Seattle'ꀙs only win during the eight-game trip. The M'ꀙs, once 15-10, have won just three and lost 10 this month.


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