Robinson Cano went on the disabled list and Edwin Diaz lost his closer’s role Tuesday as the Mariners battle yet another stormy day. Their goal now is to try to stay relevant until their starting pitchers and other key players return to health.
Checking Tuesday’s calamity index for the Mariners, we had Robinson Cano added to the disabled list (the trendiest and most crowded club in Seattle), former phenom Edwin Diaz getting bounced from his closer’s job, and Sam Gaviglio tapped to make his major-league starting debut on Thursday, the latest in a long line of emergency rotation fill-ins.
In other words, business as usual in the topsy-turvy Mariners world where GM Jerry Dipoto has made 68 transactions involving the 40-man roster since setting Seattle’s opening-day roster – an average of one every 16 hours.
“I’ve never gone through anything like this. Ever,’’ manager Scott Servais said.
Someone told Servais that no team in documented baseball history has ever lost four starters this early in the season. Their bullpen has also been torn asunder by injuries, and Cano joins Mitch Haniger, Seattle’s best player for the first three weeks, on the DL. The blueprint that Dipoto and his lieutenants drew up over the winter has been put through the shredding machine.
It’s no way to run a contending baseball season, which is why the Mariners, bruised and battered as they are, stood at a precarious crossroads even before they collapsed in the ninth inning Tuesday en route to a 9-6 loss to Oakland. Though they have done a (mostly) admirable job of weathering the storm of misfortune that borders on unprecedented, it’s going to get harder and harder to keep from sinking.
The Mariners’ job now is simple, at least in theory: They must find a way to still be relevant if and when they finally get back to full strength, or at least some semblance of it. Already, their dreams of grabbing the AL West title are fading. Houston has the best record in baseball at 28-12 and a 10-game division lead over Seattle, and appears to be a well-rounded and sustainable powerhouse.
That doesn’t mean that we should already concede, a mere quarter of the way through the season, that the Mariners’ playoff drought is going to flip over to a 16th year. It just means that they are going to have to show extraordinary resolve and overachievement to keep that from occurring.
Servais said that he is taking a very narrow focus – try to figure out a way to win the current series – while letting the front office worry about the big picture. And outfielder Jarrod Dyson says the players are determined not to seek pity for the 15 disabled-list stints that have fractured the Mariners’ season.
“You got to get over it, man,’’ Dyson said. “There’s really no excuse. Yes, we’ve got a lot of guys down that mean a lot to us, but guys are stepping up. I know we ran into a stretch of bad luck, but at the end of the day, we’ve got a ballgame to go out and play in. We can’t be taking the field worried about who’s hurt.”
But no matter how wide the screen, and no matter how strong-minded the approach, the outlook is still blurry. You simply can’t absorb the hits the Mariners have, especially to the rotation, and not wobble, if not topple. It was remarkable when the Mariners reached .500 on the last road trip – only to drop four straight in Toronto. It’s going to be difficult to mount a sustained run with a glorified Tacoma rotation and four everyday players who were penciled in for part-time duty. Throw in a suddenly turbulent closer’s job, and you have a team bordering on crisis.
Dipoto said last week that he has no plans to swing a significant trade for a starter because the Mariners anticipate all four on the DL will eventually be back. And besides, other teams would try to extort them this early in the season. That’s a justifiable but potentially crippling strategy considering that there’s only one of the four injured pitchers whose return seems imminent. That’s James Paxton, who Servais said is slated to rejoin the rotation at either the end of the upcoming trip, or the beginning of the subsequent homestand.
That’s if all goes well in his recovery, mind you — a rare state of affairs for the Mariners with regard to health issues. That upcoming trip is a daunting one, with visits to Washington, Boston and Colorado, all formidable teams. The Mariners are facing a stretch where they could fall dangerously behind the wild-card pack, which at the moment is still well within their reach.
To his credit, Servais has kept the Mariners focused and competitive. The clubhouse remains positive. The shame is that a team that on paper looked like a legitimate playoff contender has remained just that – a paper tiger.
“Eventually, we will become all healthy again,’’ Servais said. “We become whole, and I’ll be real curious to see what our team looks like at that point.”
The question is, will it be too late to matter?