Perhaps it is unfair to rip into a team for failing to extend a winning streak. It’s just that, in their first real chance to call themselves playoff contenders, the M’s went gentle into that good night.
For one afternoon at Safeco, for one nine-inning stretch in SoDo, for one game at the tail end of this otherwise somber season, the Mariners were something that they hadn’t been in months: relevant.
Hope you enjoyed it. Today, they are something else entirely.
Over the past week, while the rest of Seattle was scrutinizing its pro football team’s final roster or discussing its college football team’s freshman quarterback, its baseball team was sneaking up the American League wild-card standings ninja-style. As far as 11 games below .500 last month, the M’s put together a season-high five-game winning streak before Labor Day, returning from an 11-day trip within six games of that final playoff spot.
Texas @ Mariners, 7:10 p.m., ROOT Sports
Moreover, they opened this penultimate homestand against the Rangers — the team that owned that final spot — meaning the Mariners had four games to take a power saw to that once insurmountable wild-card deficit.
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They didn’t do that, though. On Monday, they laid an egg.
More specifically, a goose egg.
Perhaps it is unfair to rip into a baseball team for simply failing to extend a season-high winning streak. It’s just that, in their first real chance to call themselves playoff contenders — stretch as such a label may have seemed — the Mariners went gentle into that good night.
They didn’t score a run. They didn’t threaten late. And while the box score states that they didn’t commit an error, even the most casual observer would say otherwise.
For instance, in the first inning, with five-wins worth of momentum to his back, shortstop Ketel Marte led off with a single up the middle. A few pitches later, he was caught stealing second.
That same inning, third baseman Kyle Seager walked, advanced to second on a Mark Trumbo single, then was picked off at second after Texas catcher Bobby Wilson caught him mid-brain-lapse.
If there is a how-to guide detailing the best way to kill a ball club’s mojo, surely the above scenario is on Page 1. The Mariners (66-72) never recovered.
And quite frankly, they might not all year.
When only 24 games remain on your schedule, the difference between a five and seven-game deficit in the wild-card standings can feel like a Grand Canyon-sized chasm. This is particularly true when, hang on a second … one, two, FIVE teams stand between you and that final slot.
Those early losses come back to bite you with razor-sharp fangs. As M’s closer Tom Wilhelmsen said: “Every game matters. It’s just a lot easier to say ‘it’s a long season’ early in the year.”
There are two ways to interpret the Mariners’ shortcomings of late, and neither is particular encouraging.
The first is that, when the pressure is on, these guys power off.
Remember that three-game winning streak at Tampa Bay in late May that brought the M’s up to .500 for the first time since April 12? And do you remember the 11-game homestand that followed, when they went 2-9?
Before Monday’s 3-0 loss, Seattle pitchers Joe Beimel and Taijuan Walker each mentioned how their team had been playing relaxed, stress-free baseball during its winning streak. So is it just a coincidence that the Mariners — who, in finishing one game back of the wild card last year, dropped five straight in late September — became invisible once they finally drew some eyeballs?
And then there’s the other way to interpret the M’s disappointing performance: They’re just not very good.
For good reason, Seattle was a popular playoff pick among experts before the season began. A team that, in 2014, finished 87-75 and had the second lowest ERA in baseball had acquired the mighty Nelson Cruz.
So to see the these results, to see this kind of drop-off would suggest that 2015 has been an underachievement for the ages. But what if (advanced apologies here) last year was the overachievement?
Seattle, for example, has the seventh-worst bullpen ERA in MLB this season, which seems absurd given how it had the best last year. But when you consider that the Mariners were 29th in bullpen ERA in 2013, and didn’t undergo a complete relief-pitching overhaul, is it crazy to suggest that this year’s numbers are more reflective of their talent?
You could argue, after all, that the Mariners have been lucky this season — that given their monstrous -83 run differential, they’re fortunate not to be closer to the 60-78 record baseball-reference.com suggests they should be at.
After the game, M’s manager Lloyd McClendon was asked whether Monday’s loss stung more than usual.
“Not any more. They all hurt,” he said. “The fact is, we’ve been playing good baseball and we’ll bounce back from this. Nobody is pulling the curtain on us yet.”
Hey, the playoffs are still possible. The Mariners have three more games against Texas this homestand, and if they win all of them, could be within four games of that that last wild-card spot.
But here’s the more realistic way of thinking: This team has a long way to go.
And that’s not limited to this year.