SEATTLE – Hope isn’t lost for the Mariners, but it has gone into hiding. Faith that this ballclub can match preseason expectations is dwindling with each defeat.
The M’s have lost 12 of their past 15 games. They have dropped their past five series. That late-April homestand in which they took seven of nine of from the Astros, Rangers and Royals feels more like a forgotten dream than an actual memory.
The Mariners Magic that fans were hoping for when the season began has devolved into a Mariners Mess. One can contend that Seattle (14-18) has given itself a chance in most of the games over this skid, just as it did in Wednesday’s 4-2 loss to the Phillies – but that’s about as comforting as a quilt made of cacti.
It’s getting bad out there for the M’s. That’s the plain and simple truth.
“Losing is losing, whether it’s close, whether 9-0 or whatever, it doesn’t feel good,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “We’re going to continue to grind and get better, and we will.”
They might. What’s missing right now for the Mariners is any kind of offensive identity. They’ve managed just 38 runs over their past 15 games, good for a 2.53 average. Had that been their average for the season, they would be last in MLB in runs per game. And signs that their bats will wake up aren’t exactly abundant.
Take a player such as outfielder Jesse Winker, an off-season acquisition fresh off his first All-Star Game. He was supposed to be a consistent offensive presence for Seattle – someone who could at least come close to replicating the .949 OPS he put up for the Reds last season. Instead, he is hitting .204 with an OPS of .585 and a WAR of -0.5 as he struggles to catch up to opposing pitchers’ fastballs.
Or someone such as second-year player Jarred Kelenic, one of the most-hyped prospects the Mariners have had in years. He is batting .140 after an embarrassing attempt at pinch-hitting vs. Philadelphia on Wednesday, when he struck out on four pitches without taking a swing.
Servais said Monday he was encouraged by what he had seen from the 22-year-old recently, even if it wasn’t showing up in the box score. On Wednesday, he appeared to hedge a little on his previous comments.
“We were headed in a pretty good direction. I think he was a little frustrated with his at-bat today, no question,” Servais said. “He’ll continue to get the opportunity to play here.”
How often he’ll get to play is another question, though. The Mariners are set to begin what feels like a significant road trip Friday. Three games with the first-place Mets, three more with the 17-15 Blue Jays and three with the struggling Red Sox. Football players and coaches talk all the time about how you can’t win a game in the first quarter, but you can lose it. If the M’s go, say, 2-7 on this trip and come back nine games below .500, it’s going to be hard to feel like the season isn’t lost.
Of course, it’s worth noting that the Mariners were 23-27 last season before rallying to rattle off 90 wins. Baseball is a streaky sport – maybe the streakiest. But are you watching this team right now and thinking they have the talent to win 11 of 12 and spring back into contention?
It looked for a minute that the M’s might have an ace emerging in starting pitcher Logan Gilbert. And though he did strike out nine in five innings Wednesday, he also gave up a fourth-inning grand slam to Rhys Hoskins after walking two Phillies, meaning he has allowed seven earned runs over his past 10 innings.
The Mariners are desperate for a spark but don’t know where it might come. Will Robbie Ray rediscover the form that earned him the AL Cy Young Award with the Blue Jays last season? Will rookie Julio Rodriguez deliver statistics commensurate with his natural talent? Because right now it’s basically just shortstop J.P. Crawford and first baseman Ty France trying to carry a team that’s in full-on flounder mode.
Servais talked Wednesday about the chance to reset after playing 16 consecutive games, most of which ended poorly. Such a reset is essential. The Mariners hopped on a plane Wednesday to get away from Seattle for a bit. While they’re gone, they have to make sure the season doesn’t get away from them.