There’s losing, which the Mariners have done for many years, are doing right now and will seemingly do for the foreseeable future.
And that was to be expected this season given the organization’s decision to change the direction of the immediate future in a plan that many labeled this season as “a step back.”
But then there is what has transpired for the last three days at T-Mobile Park, including Saturday night’s embarrassing 18-4 shellacking imposed on the Mariners by the Twins. And that’s something worse than losing – non-competitive drubbings that leave fans wondering why they are paying/committing to watching this team and whether they will continue to do so.
Well, there was the Ken Griffey Jr. bobblehead giveaway, which was probably the main reason why a large portion of the announced crowd of 34,433 made their way to the park on a gorgeous spring evening.
It does make the premise of what will bring fans to the park on non-giveaway days for the remainder of the season a very real dilemma for the organization. But this is the path they’ve chosen with “the step back.” And while the logic for that decision is justified and probably correct, many fans haven’t fully gauged the on-field consequences of it for this season and possibly next season. A 13-2 start to this season, which feels like 10 years ago, certainly didn’t help transition the thinking. Seattle is 9-24 since then.
“We’re struggling,” manager Scott Servais said. “That’s the name of the game. We need to step up.”
There has been little about the first three games of this series vs. the Twins that would want to make Mariner fans see more, including Sunday’s finale.
By all measures, most specifically a now 30-15 record, which is second best in the American League, the Twins are a good team. They’ve been building toward this season and now their combination of power, pitching and defense has gelled into a quality group that seems destined for a postseason berth.
But what they’ve done to the Mariners in the first three games has been unexpected. And the results on Saturday night bordered on the absurd. The banged out 19 hits on the night, including 11 extra-base hits. Of their six homers, they got the cycle of a solo, a two-run, a three-run and a grand slam. They had leads of 10-0, 12-0 and 15-0 in the first five innings.
“They pounded us,” Servais said. “I mean what are you going to say. They hit the tar out of the ball and we made a bunch of mistakes. Our pitching is going through a spell right now. I’d like to say it’s baseball but we have to make some adjustments.”
Over the first three games of this series, Minnesota has outscored Seattle 36-11 while bashing 11 homers. The Twins have done that with two of their best hitters — catcher Mitch Garver and designated hitter Nelson Cruz on the injured list.
Seattle starter Wade LeBlanc, who was activated from the disabled list earlier in the day, slogged his way through one of his worst outings of the season – the worst being his last official outing where he strained an oblique.
LeBlanc never made it out of the third inning. After an easy 1-2-3 first inning where he threw six pitches, LeBlanc endured a marathon second inning that featured 11 batters coming to the plate, five runs scored on five hits and two walks and 36 pitches thrown.
“They made adjustments and I didn’t,” LeBlanc said. “It’s as simple as that.”
With one out, LeBlanc gave up a solo homer to C.J. Cron to deep left field. It only got worse. LeBlanc gave up a double to Max Kepler that should’ve been an out at second base, but J.P. Crawford dropped an excellent throw from Mitch Haniger. LeBlanc then walked Miguel Sano and Jason Castro to load the bases while having a few choice words for plate umpire Alfonso Marquez.
Later with Byron Buxton at the plate, Marquez stopped the game to tell the Mariners dugout and specifically manager Scott Servais to stop complaining about the strike zone after a 1-0 pitch was called a ball.
“I wanted that pitch,” LeBlanc said. “If I get that, it’s 1-1 and I can go anywhere. But 2-0 with the bases loaded I have to to throw a strike. I went to my best pitch.”
It was a 2-0 cutter that Buxton smashed to left field for a grand slam that made it 5-0.
“It was a terrible pitch,” LeBlanc said. “Terrible location.”
The Twins put the game out of reach in the third, yes, the third inning. LeBlanc gave up another solo homer to Cron – this time a shot to right-center – to start the inning. He came back to strikeout Kepler looking, but Sano hit a line drive solo homer off the hand-held scoreboard in Edgar’s Cantina to make it 7-0.
The Twins made it 10-0 when Jonathan Schoop hit a three-run homer off of LeBlanc’s replacement Parker Markel with two outs in the inning.
The Mariners bullpen, which has been culpable in many of the blowout games this season, couldn’t slow the damage.
Mike Wright gave up five runs over the fourth and fifth innings to make it 15-0.
“Our pitching has struggled” Servais said. “The Twins can hit and they’ve got power. Tomorrow is another ballgame. The last three nights have been rough on our pitching.”
In a twist of the bizarre, Twins starter Jose Berrios, who held the Mariners to just two hits – a pair of Edwin Encarnacion singles — over the first four innings, fell apart in the fifth inning. He gave up four runs in the fifth and was pulled with two outs. So despite having a 15-0 lead going into fifth, he got a no-decision for failing to go five complete innings.
The Mariners’ first run of the game came on a broken- bat single to right from Crawford that scored Ryon Healy from third. The accomplishment was met by loud and impressively sarcastic Bronx cheer from the remaining fans that hadn’t exited early with their bobbleheads. Seattle scored three more runs off Berrios on a wild pitch and RBI singles from Daniel Vogelbach and Encarnacion to cut the lead 15-4.
If there were any insane thoughts of a comeback entering fans minds, they were quickly laughed away by Schoop’s second homer of the game – a two-run shot to deep right-center off of Ryan Garton that pushed the lead to 17-4.
Cory Gearrin gave up run in the eighth.
The Mariners had six players throw at least one pitch in the game. LeBlanc and four relievers all gave up runs. But backup catcher Tom Murphy worked a 1-2-3 ninth inning, striking out Sano with an elevated 90 mph fastball and Castro on a nasty slider.