In a game they needed to win to keep the pulse of their fading postseason hopes alive, the Mariners knew they would probably need to get four quality innings of bullpen work to have any sort of chance at a victory, well, unless they scored eight or nine runs.
It takes a special sort of faith or perhaps it’s masochism to knowingly rely upon the worst bullpen in the American League in this situation. But this is the roster that manager Scott Servais was given to work with in this rebuilding season, including an array of relievers that were either short on MLB experience or MLB success.
It’s like being asked to decide between a punch to the face or a kick in the gut, and somehow having to endure both.
So which was more likely to happen in the penultimate game of the season series against the rival Astros on Tuesday night at T-Mobile Park — four good innings from the bullpen or eight or nine runs?
Uh, that would be neither in a 6-1 defeat that felt frustratingly familiar to so many defeats this season.
“There’s gonna be nights like tonight,” Servais said in a postgame video conference. “You’re running a 23-year-old starter out there and you’re trying to piece it together and it just doesn’t happen for you.”
With their victory, the Astros moved four games ahead of the Mariners for second place in the American League West and five games if you count owning the season tiebreaker. With five games remaining for both teams, the Mariners would have to win all five and the Astros would have to lose all five for Seattle to finish in second place and grab a postseason spot they were never expected to contend for going into this season.
“All along this season and even when we put some nice streaks together and everybody got excited about a chance to make a run at the playoffs, we felt it and it’s a good thing for players to go through it,” Servais said. “That’s a good thing for the players to go through that and experience, but understanding where we are at as an organization in our plan and our development. But the whole plan all year was continue to get better and I think we have.”
There is another path, which is the second wild-card spot, the eighth and final spot in the money grab known as the expanded postseason. With the Yankees continuing their season-long destruction of the Blue Jays with a 12-1 pummeling, Toronto dropped to 28-27 to also sit four games ahead of the Mariners for that last postseason spot. But Seattle holds the tiebreaker in that scenario, which is based on the record in their last 20 division games.
So there is a chance, albeit slim, for Seattle to sneak into the postseason. But another loss won’t work. The Mariners are hanging on by their fingernails while seemingly gnawing on them at the same time.
Any scoreboard watching of the Blue Jays won’t matter much if the same issues persist with the Mariners.
The Seattle offense made Astros erratic starting pitcher Framber Valdez look solid, scoring just one run on five hits while drawing no walks and striking out eight times. Kyle Seager drove in Seattle’s only run with a run-scoring double in the first inning.
“Valdez has good stuff, lots of sinking fastballs,” Servais said. “We hit the ball hard a few times, but not a ton offensively.”
After getting four solid innings from starter Ljay Newsome, who allowed one run, Servais didn’t want to take any chances having the young rookie face the top of Houston’s order for a third time.
“The plan going into the game was let him go through the lineup twice,” Servais said. “And he was able to do that and kept us right there.”
Servais went to the bullpen after Newsome struck out Martin Maldonado for the first out in the fifth inning with his season-high 66th pitch. Right-hander Casey Sadler entered the game and quickly retired George Springer and Jose Altuve to end the fifth.
Newsome obviously wanted to keep going, but Servais didn’t relent on the plan.
“You’re watching the game and you see how they’re reacting to the stuff.,” Servais said. “And I think that the one strikeout he got tonight was the last hitter he faced. There will be a time for him when we let him go deeper and let him figure out some things. But it was the right call tonight. It just didn’t work. I say that and we got through the fifth and we were fine. And he would not have gone any longer than five anyway.”
Asked to work the sixth, Sadler started it and never finished. He gave up a wall-scraper of a solo homer to Michael Brantley past right field for a 2-1 Houston lead.
After retiring Alex Bregman, Sadler gave up a single to Preston Tucker, walked Yuli Gurriel and his wild pitch got them into scoring position. He later uncorked another wild pitch that allowed Tucker to score to make it 3-1. Sadler got Carlos Correa to pop out to shallow left field, not allowing another run to score. But a walk to Josh Reddick forced Servais to go to the bullpen again.
“Casey might be one of our hottest relievers,” Servais said. “He has been awesome since we’ve acquired him. He’s adjusted his arsenal a little bit. Tonight, he just wasn’t quite as sharp.”
Right-hander Brandon Brennan, who recently returned from the injured list and looked solid in his last outing, somehow made the inning worse. He fell behind 2-0 and then gutted a fastball that Martin Maldonado annihilated to left center for a three-run homer.
When the inning was finally done, the Astros led 6-1, and the Mariners were done.