HOUSTON – At some point, when the Mariners do their autopsy of what went wrong in 2013, their opponent this past weekend will surely come up.
Sure, the Mariners managed to sleepwalk their way to three wins to begin an extended weekend series against the Houston Astros, a team on pace to lose 109 games this year. But then the Mariners dropped the series finale 2-0 on Sunday with their second-best starter on the mound, and having failed to score over the final 17 innings.
Besides extending their seasonlong string of futility against left-handed starters, the Mariners also fell to 10-6 against an Astros team the rest of the division has crushed all year. On Sunday, it was Astros southpaw Brett Oberholtzer holding the Mariners to just four singles in compiling a 113-pitch shutout.
“He was just keeping us off-balance,’’ said Nick Franklin, whose single to right in the sixth inning was the hardest ball hit by the Mariners the past two days. “And we didn’t have the timely hits to go along with it.’’
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The Mariners had few hits period against left-handed starters the past two days. Since scoring all of their runs in a walk-and-blooper-filled first inning Saturday, the Mariners had just seven singles in the 17 scoreless frames.
Their last extra-base hit came on a Dustin Ackley triple in the eighth inning Friday night.
Hisashi Iwakuma did his best to keep Seattle in Sunday’s game, holding the Astros scoreless for seven innings. But Charlie Furbush allowed back-to-back doubles to Jose Altuve and Jason Castro to start the eighth for the only run needed in front of 17,203 at Minute Maid Park.
The Astros added an insurance run later in the inning when Castro raced home not once, but twice on consecutive pitches to score on a squeeze bunt. Pinch-hitter Brandon Barnes had fouled the first attempt off but he put Furbush’s very next offering in play to the right side.
“I don’t think that’s happened to me two times in a row,’’ Furbush admitted afterward.
The Mariners had no play at the plate on the well-executed bunt. In fact, they had no play anywhere because Franklin failed to cover first base, resulting in an infield single for Barnes.
“It’s one of those things where, right when I saw the runner take off, I took off immediately, hoping he’d push the ball toward me,’’ Franklin said. “I ended up being wrong. In that case, I was supposed to cover first. It’s a mistake that you learn from.’’
The Mariners had won their last six games against the Astros — all at Minute Maid Park — to help improve what had been an ugly 4-5 mark versus Houston the first few months of the season.
In Seattle’s case, improved play against Houston came too late to matter, with the team having failed to pull completely out of its early tailspin. Too often, as was again the case Sunday, the Mariners’ losses have been the result of an inability to put up offense against an Astros team known for giving up a plethora of walks and runs.
The Mariners are hitting .226 off left-handed starters this season compared to .248 when facing right-handers. They’ve also struck out once every 3.9 at-bats against southpaw starters compared to once every 4.3 at-bats against righties.
Mariners manager Eric Wedge was visibly displeased with his team’s performance in Saturday night’s win. The defense was a bit tighter in this contest – Franklin’s one gaffe aside – but the hitting continued to swoon.
“The right-handers need to step up, it’s as simple as that,’’ Wedge said of his hitters. “We’ve had our struggles against left-handers. And whenever that’s the case, your right-handers – whether they be switch-hitters or just straight right-handers – they’re the ones who have to do the damage.
“I feel like our left-handers hang in there pretty good, but our right-handers need to be doing better.’’
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.