They can say it’s early, because, well, the 2022 season is still in its infancy. But what happens if they are still playing subpar baseball like this and it’s no longer early?
The Mariners are now officially 30 days and 28 games into this six-month, 162-game journey.
Over the past two weeks, it’s difficult to tell if they are a good team playing poorly, an average team regressing to a new norm or a flawed team revealing its warts with each game.
But this much is certain. They are mired in an abysmal stretch of losses with no easy wins coming on their schedule.
Asked to keep a game close in hopes of a late rally, reliever Diego Castillo provided a performance which was the equivalent of ramming a nitroglycerin truck into a dumpster fire.
Facing the team that traded him to the Mariners, Castillo gave up five runs on three hits to the Tampa Bay Rays, including a grand slam to Manuel Margot, while never recording an out in the eighth inning.
It turned a two-run deficit with faint hope for a rally into a hopeless 8-2 drubbing Saturday night, extending Seattle’s losing streak to six games.
The Mariners have now lost 10 of their past 11 games to fall to 12-16 on the season. Only six teams have worse records than them in the American League and they aren’t playing any of those teams any time soon.
“We’re going through a little adversity here,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “You really find out a lot about people when things aren’t going well. That’s kind of what we’re going through now. It’ll pay off for us in the long run. We will get it turned around. But right now, it’s not any fun. It’s painful to not get the results you’re hoping to get.”
Those poor results, Servais believes, are due to a breakdown in their core philosophy — control/dominate the strike zone.
“We haven’t done it here recently,” he said. “I think it’s part of our struggles offensively. Our pitchers are getting a little bit timid, trying to be perfect. We have to get back to doing what we strongly believe in. We just haven’t done it and we’re getting outplayed.”
It might be too early to panic. But the stated expectations of a winning season, a playoff berth and ending a postseason drought that started in 2002 aren’t going to be realized if they can’t consistently find a performance level better than what they’ve shown.
“We need the ball to bounce our way a couple times here and there,” said starter Marco Gonzales. “The prep, the effort and the competitiveness is there. And this is a moment in time in the season where we need to stick to our plan. We’re used to the ups and downs of a season. There’s no panic here. There’s simply a mindset of just stay with it.”
Servais still believes this team is a good team that has yet to show its capabilities.
“It is,” he said. “You look at things on paper and how it should play out, but we’ve been streaky. We had a good streak early. We’re in a bad streak right now.”
Castillo is in a bad streak right now. He recorded just one out while allowing a run on two hits with a walk in his previous outing in Houston. In 12 appearances this season, he’s allowed 13 hits with six walks and nine strikeouts. Perhaps we are seeing why the Rays were willing to trade him last season.
“His bread-and-butter pitch is his slider,” Servais said. “It’s a hard slider. He’s always had a feel for it and been able to command it. But he hasn’t had it the last few times out. It’s been a struggle for him to command it. He has been going to the fastball and tonight I thought he just looked out of sorts timing-wise with his delivery.”
Drew Rasmussen, a Puyallup native and a former Mt. Spokane standout, beat the Mariners for a second time this season, with more than 40 family members and friends here to see him pitch. Using a hard cut fastball and aggressive approach, he pitched five innings, allowing one run on five hits with two walks and five strikeouts to improve to 3-1.
“He’s really good to the glove side,” Servais said. “That’s where he pitches on that side of the plate, obviously away to the righties and in to the lefties. The cutter is hard. It’s one of the better cutters in the league. It’s coming in at 92 to 93 mph with a 96 mph fastball. He’s got really good stuff.”
Making his sixth start of the season, Gonzales gave the Mariners a workable outing, pitching 5 1/3 innings, allowing three runs (two earned) on six hits with an uncharacteristic four walks and a strikeout.
The Rays picked up that unearned run in the third inning for a 1-0 lead when Adam Frazier’s relay throw to third base struck the heel of Yandy Diaz as he was sliding into the bag. It bounced past Eugenio Suarez and into the dugout, allowing Diaz to jog home.
The other two runs came off the bat of Brandon Lowe. The left-handed swinging second baseman ended a career-long home run drought of 79 plate appearances over 19 games with a solo homer off a Gonzales changeup in the fourth inning to make it 2-0.
The Mariners got a run back in the fifth inning when Julio Rodriguez led off with a triple and later scored on Adam Frazier’s two-out single to right field.
Lowe got Gonzales again in the sixth inning, ambushing a first pitch sinker and smoking a solo homer over the wall in right-center that made it 3-1.