ST. LOUIS — A sinking Mariners team deployed the equivalent of a Class AAA bullpen against a heavyweight big-league offense, and the results were painful to watch.
Seattle already trailed by three runs Sunday when Carter Capps came in to pitch the fifth inning and caused the game to quickly get out of hand. Capps gave up a single, a home run and a double in rapid succession to launch what became a series-clinching 12-2 rout for the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Cardinals went 11 for 20 (.550) and scored seven times in a three-inning stretch against three Seattle relief pitchers — Capps, Bobby Lafromboise and Chance Ruffin — who have spent substantial time in AAA Tacoma this year.
“The bullpen really struggled today,’’ Mariners manager Eric Wedge said.
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National League MVP candidate Yadier Molina finished with four hits for St. Louis, including a solo homer off Mariners starter Erasmo Ramirez.
Lucas Luetge came in and pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning, but by then the Mariners had already given up 19 hits and hit three batters.
An already worn-out bullpen left Wedge few options once Ramirez gave up four runs in the fourth and the Mariners trailed 5-1. The Mariners got a run back in the top of the fifth, but then Capps served up a two-run homer to Matt Adams in the bottom of the inning that launched this into a blowout in front of 40,526 at Busch Stadium.
Capps has been decimated by left-handed hitters like Adams all season, but now even the right-handers are hitting him hard. Capps gave up a double to David Freese after the home run and was pulled without retiring a hitter.
Opponents are hitting .313 against Capps, with an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of .907. Capps had some initial success with changes he implemented but has been rocked his past two outings.
“He kind of reverted back,’’ Wedge said of Sunday’s implosion. “He threw six or seven pitches, they were all fastballs and most of them were up. I don’t care how hard you throw, you’re not going to get away with that here.’’
And the Mariners haven’t gotten away with much of late as they attempt to drag their youth-infused roster through the final two weeks. A midseason “going young” strategy that served them well in July — particularly during an eight-game winning streak — is now crashing down around them as the team’s inexperience is exposed nightly by contending squads.
They’ve lost 6 of 7 and 16 of their past 23 to guarantee them a fourth consecutive losing season.
It seems unlikely Seattle can avoid 90 losses. Many veteran players appear worn down from overuse, while the team’s rookies and call-ups are going through September for the first time and showing the strain.
Lafromboise did little to stop the bleeding once he replaced Capps, allowing a run-scoring double by Daniel Descalso and then a run-scoring single by John Jay that made it 9-2. Ruffin got through a scoreless sixth inning in which he hit a batter and allowed Molina’s fourth hit, but then served up three runs in the seventh.
The Mariners had done a good job containing the Cardinals’ offense the first two games and in the opening three innings of the finale. But Ramirez struggled from the outset to keep his fastball and slider from running away on him, and it proved costly in the fourth.
Molina and Adams notched singles and Ramirez then hit Freese with a fastball to load the bases. Descalso singled to put St. Louis up 2-1 and then Matt Carpenter lined a two-out, two-run single.
Later that inning, Ramirez also hit Jay with a pitch and wound up yielding another run moments later.
“Those situations are unusual for me,’’ Ramirez said of hitting multiple batters. “Because I usually figure it’s better to just walk guys by keeping the ball down and in the dirt. I don’t know, the ball was just running too much at the time. … They took advantage of every mistake I made.’’
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @gbakermariners.