MILWAUKEE — Although MLB players and coaches use the All-Star break as their midway point of the season, the break is actually past the season’s true halfway point.
The Mariners’ last game — a 13-2 win over the Orioles to closeout the recent homestand — was their 82nd of the season. After an unexpected and unsustainable 13-2 start to the season, the Mariners cratered into the team many expected in this “step-back” season. They come into this series against the Brewers with a 35-47 record, sixth worst in MLB. That means they went 22-45 since that magical start, including a 7-21 May. They’ve been beaten by five-plus runs 17 times.
Their defense and the pitching, specifically the bullpen, have been abysmal. To be fair, their defense has played significantly better since Kyle Seager returned from the injured list, J.P. Crawford replaced Tim Beckham at shortstop and Domingo Santana moved back to right field.
The Mariners have committed 83 errors in 82 games, which is 20 more than the next closest team. It puts them on pace for 163 in the season. The Cardinals led MLB with 133 errors last season.
The pitching staff’s 5.35 ERA is the second worst in baseball, trailing just the Orioles at 5.85. The 9.8 hits allowed per nine innings are the most in baseball, while their 7.8 strikeouts per nine innings is the second lowest. They’ve allowed 10 plus runs in 17 games this season. The use of an opener has skewed the stat splits of the rotation and the bullpen. The bullpen’s 5.24 ERA is fourth worst in MLB and the 4.54 walks per nine innings are the second highest. Seattle starters have generated 2.2 WAR, which is the fourth lowest total in MLB while their 6.79 strikeouts per nine innings is the worst.
What has manager Scott Servais seen from his team in that first half?
“Positively, I think we’ve done a lot of things offensively,” Servais said. “When we put the team together and we left spring training, we liked our lineup and thought we’d score a bunch of runs. We didn’t know how we’d do it. Certainly the home run has been a big friend of ours. Offensively, we’ve done some pretty good things.
“Probably the most disappointing thing has been our defense. Through the month of May we really struggled. We have turned things around dramatically here in June. We talk a lot about controlling the zone offensively. We went from one of the lower teams in the league as far as our chase rates and ability to put the ball in play with two strikes to one of the better teams in the month of June. After a very disappointing May, we’ve flipped that and got back on the right side of things. I’m happy about that. … But May was a struggle and what it does to your pitching and the flow of the game is pretty frustrating.”
But controlling the zone from the pitchers?
“We have to do a better job of it on the mound,” Servais said. “The walks are still bit of an issue. You saw (Yusei) Kikuchi struggle with it the other day. Our bullpen walks have been an issue.”
The amount of turnover in the bullpen has been absurd. The injury to Hunter Strickland started much of the problems.
“That’s probably the one injury, and it happened real early, but we weren’t able to recoup from that,” Servais said. “We were really excited about the way Hunter was throwing the ball in spring training. He threw the ball well in Japan. And when he went down, that really shifted some things in our bullpen.”
There was also the personnel. The Mariners took plenty of chances on players that were minor-league signings or players designated for assignment. They had upside stuff and minimal command.
“Biggest thing bullpen-wise is that we took a different philosophy,” Servais said. “We gave guys with big stuff opportunities. We’ve seen a lot of velocity, probably the biggest velocity out of our bullpen since I’ve been here. And velocity is cool, but at the end of the day, it’s about getting hitters out. As the velocity with guys increased, the pitch ability decreased and it’s about making pitches, getting ahead in counts, controlling counts and all those other things on the mound.
“We’ll continue to shuffle. We brought some guys back that have a longer track record of throwing strikes. I tend to lean toward those guys. You have an idea of what you are going to get every time out. I think that’s how good bullpens are put together.”
- Sam Tuivailala (shoulder fatigue) was roughed up in his first outing of his second rehab stint. He allowed five runs (four earned) on five hits with two strikeouts in 2/3 of an inning. But Servais said Tuivailala’s shoulder felt good and his velocity was back to normal, which is a positive sign.
- Mitch Haniger (ruptured testicle) is with the team on the road trip. He took fly balls on the field and is moving closer to taking batting practice.
- Braden Bishop (lacerated spleen) is still working to get weight back on his frame and building some strength. He’s a week to 10 days before beginning any working out.
- Connor Sadzeck (elbow inflammation) played catch on Monday, but the elbow was still bothering him. He’s been shut down for a few days.
- Hunter Strickland (Grade 2 lat strain) hasn’t resumed throwing after having a setback. He is hoping to play catch in the next few days.
- Felix Hernandez (Grade 1 lat strain) is still trying to build strength in his shoulder after dealing with fatigue in his recent rehab start.
- Ryon Healy (lower back strain) is headed to the team’s facility in Arizona to work out with the players at extended spring training.
- Brandon Brennan (right shoulder strain) played catch on Monday and felt good. He’ll continue to play catch daily to work up to a bullpen.
- Chasen Bradford (forearm strain) has been at home in Las Vegas dealing with a family issue. He’s returning to Seattle in the next few days and resuming his rehab.