The tanking team vs. the sinking team.
It’s difficult to know what position seems more hopeless at the moment.
With their 4-2 win on a sunny Wednesday afternoon, what’s left of the Oakland A’s, following ownership’s decision for a massive rebuild and likely future relocation, which included trading away their two best position players and two top pitchers with more trades coming at the deadline to reduce payroll, sent the Mariners, a team supposedly with designs on playing in the postseason, into last place in the American League West.
“I sat here a few days ago and talked about how we should not take the Oakland A’s lightly because they would come in and play very hard,” manager Scott Servais said. “And that’s exactly what they did. We did not have a good series here.”
While all losses count the same, the Mariners are now an ugly 18-27 and the optics surrounding losing two of three games at T-Mobile Park to an organization that isn’t investing in a roster to win looks significantly worse.
“This is a tough one,” an irritated Servais said. “We did not have a good series against a team that coming into this series, I thought we should win it. They executed better. They made pitches. Their bullpen was pretty good. And they took advantage of us.”
The A’s are a shell of their former selves, while the Mariners have devolved into a rudderless mess, drifting toward another summer of discontent before June 1.
“You are what your record says you are,” Servais said. “I believe we’re a better ballclub than that. We’re capable of playing a lot better and we will. It’s just not happening right now.”
It hasn’t been happening for basically a month.
Since beating the Rays in Tampa on April 26 — the last time they won back-to-back games — the Mariners have now lost 21 of their past 28 games. The Houston Astros arrive in town Friday for a three-game series.
“We’re not playing good baseball,” Servais said. “We know that. We have to make some adjustments here, and it needs to happen quick.”
But what adjustments can they make? There is no help in the minor leagues and no real trade market to improve the roster.
“No one likes to lose, especially the way we are right now and especially games I think we should be winning,” said shortstop J.P. Crawford. “It’s frustrating. But we have more than 100 games to go, so we’ve got a bunch of time and we can’t press right now.”
How much time? To get to their 90-win total from a season ago, they’d need to finish 72-45 in their remaining games.
“You can’t sit back and say, ‘OK, now we need to win 10 out of 12 or 12 out of 15 or something like that,” Servais said. “You’ve really got to look a game at a time, just play a good game, play a good series.”
Robbie Ray gave the Mariners a workable outing, pitching six innings and allowing three runs on seven hits, with a walk and 10 strikeouts.
The three runs scored came via the home run. Ray allowed a solo homer to Seth Brown in the fourth inning. But it was Elvis Andrus’ two-run towering fly ball to left field that carried just over the wall and into Edgar’s Cantina in the sixth inning that left Ray shaking his head in frustration.
“To me, that’s a pop-up,” Ray said. “That’s all I can say. That’s just mind-boggling, honestly. I can understand beating a guy and him getting a hit, but to beat a guy and he takes you out of the yard is just super frustrating.”
The ball just sort of carried in the afternoon sunshine, just out of Jesse Winker’s reach on a leaping attempt. Per MLB Statcast data, the fly ball traveled 348 feet with a 98-mph exit velocity and a 41-degree launch angle — and had a .080 expecting batting average.
The Mariners offense was stymied in the early innings by A’s starter Paul Blackburn, who pitched 5 1/3 scoreless innings to improve to 5-0 on the season, and the A’s bullpen late. Oakland pitching benefited from four rally-killing double plays.
For some die-hard Mariners fans, there is an initial bit of recognition or familiarity around the Blackburn’s unique last name beyond the fact that he had pitched against the Mariners before, generating a “that sure sounds familiar, why should I know that name?”
Well, Blackburn was once part of the Mariners organization … for 115 days.
A first-round pick (No. 56 overall) in the 2012 draft by the Cubs, Blackburn was traded to the Mariners along with first baseman/designated hitter/lineman Daniel Vogelbach on July 12, 2016 in exchange for left-handed pitcher Mike Montgomery and minor-league pitcher Jordan Pries.
It wasn’t a particularly popular trade at the time. Fans felt general manager Jerry Dipoto was giving up on Montgomery, who had pitched in a variety of roles with some success. Montgomery would later play an intricate role in the Cubs’ World Series, even recording the final out of the World Series.
Blackburn made seven starts and one relief appearance at the Mariners’ Class AA affiliate, posting a 3-1 record with a. 3.54 ERA. Wanting to have a platoon partner for Vogelbach and a better defensive presence at first base for the 2017 season, the Mariners traded Blackburn to the A’s on Nov. 12, 2016 in exchange for first baseman Danny Valencia.
A talented but petulant player with a pattern of grating on coaches and teammates, the Mariners were Valencia’s seventh team in seven seasons. With Vogelbach struggling to the point of being sent down in spring training and Valencia forced to play everyday, the Mariners realized a few weeks into the season that his unfavorable reputation was well-earned. They tried to trade Valencia at the deadline of a lost season, but not surprisingly found no takers. He signed a minor-league contract with the Orioles for the 2018 season.
Trailing 3-0, Seattle got runs in the seventh and eighth inning, but fell short. The Mariners are now 0-23 in games where they trail after the sixth inning and 3-17 when scoring three runs or fewer.