The M's lost eight of 11 games leading into the All-Star break. But, the four Mariners’ All-Stars were resolute that this is just a temporary detour from what they still feel is a playoff-bound path
WASHINGTON – Nelson Cruz spoke the obvious on Monday on behalf of the flailing Mariners.
“I think we all need the All-Star break,’’ he said. “I think it’s going to help us to get away a little bit from baseball. Everybody needs that rest, and I don’t think it could come up at a better time.”
The Mariners were the feel-good story in MLB for much of the first half, but it’s been a feel-bad finish as they reached the break by losing eight of their past 11. They have seen their wild-card lead over the torrid A’s diminish from 11 games on June 15 to just three.
Nevertheless, the four Mariners’ All-Stars were resolute that this is just a temporary detour from what they still feel is a playoff-bound path. Mitch Haniger tried to put their season in perspective by pointing out that the overall record of 58-39 is excellent despite the recent struggles.
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“I think we’re 19 games over .500,’’ Haniger said. “If you told us that was our record going into the season, we’d take it. We’re happy with where we’re at, but I think we can get better in a lot of areas. We’re focused on improving.”
Haniger said he feels the Mariners’ clubhouse chemistry is strong enough to withstand their travails.
“Our mindset is just trying to get to the playoffs,’’ he said. “We’ve had a drought in Seattle, and we feel we have the team this year and we’re going to do it. Everybody’s been great in the clubhouse, everybody’s been jelling together, so we’re looking forward to coming back in the second half stronger and getting to the playoffs.”
Closer Edwin Diaz acknowledged the Mariners have taken note of the hot streak by the A’s, who went 21-6 over the last month and have won 12 consecutive home series to push their record 13 games over .500 at 55-42.
“They are playing great baseball,’’ Diaz said. “We are worried about that. But we have to be playing our baseball. Personally, I don’t think about Houston, I don’t think about Oakland; I think about my team, trying to win every game, to win series. We are looking to keep playing great baseball.
“I have a lot of confidence. In spring training, no one gave us a chance for the playoffs. We finished the first half 19 games over .500, so we are in a good place to make the playoffs.”
Added shortstop Jean Segura: “There’s going to be some struggles along the way, you can’t win every game you play. We’re going to handle it right now and continue to get better and hopefully the team turns it around and starts winning again.
“We still have confidence, and we still have confidence we’re going to make the playoffs.’’
The Mariners still have designs on catching the Astros, whom they trail by five games. Asked how concerned he was about the A’s, Cruz replied, “They’re playing pretty good. I don’t think we should be concerned. We are the ones who dictate, because we’re the ones who have to win games. We don’t want to worry about anyone else besides us.”
Haniger noted that the absence of DH Cruz in Colorado contributed to getting swept at the hands of the Rockies and said the team “is a little beat up” right now. But he’s still bullish on their chances to end the 16-year playoff drought.
“Some of the media were asking us the other day if we’re just trying to make things happen that aren’t there,’’ he said. “I don’t feel that at all. I feel like the clubhouse is still really loose. It’s like a brotherhood in our clubhouse and everybody is really close with each other. That’s what you need on championship teams, and I think this is the year we’re going to get to the playoffs and do some work in the playoffs.”
A’s gunning for playoffs as well
Meanwhile, Oakland’s two All-Stars said they, too, are gunning for a playoff spot that they believe is attainable. The A’s and Mariners have 10 more meetings this year, seven of them in Oakland.
“We got hot at the right time,’’ said closer Blake Treinen. “It definitely changes the conversation for the direction of our team. I think anybody out there reporting on baseball could agree with that. I think our team is filled with young projected talent, and they’re starting to realize how good they are.”
Treinen pointed to the 2011 season, when St. Louis was 10½ games out of a playoff berth in the last week of August, and down six with 10 games to play. They snuck in as the wild-card team and wound up winning the World Series.
“I think you should never give in,’’ he said. “In a game today where people are so big on either buying or selling out, I think baseball needs a middle-of-the-pack team to climb and find a way to the playoffs. So why not the Oakland A’s?”
A’s second baseman Jed Lowrie, however, doesn’t want his team to focus entirely on catching the Mariners.
“Particularly with a young team, I think we need to narrow our focus,’’ he said. “Be aware of the standings but not be driven by the standings, if that makes sense. It’s because it’s really easy to get caught up in what’s going on in other places as opposed to what we’re doing on any given day.
“Now, when we have a big series late in the year against teams we are chasing or hopefully passed, then you start thinking about things like that. But I think it’s a little too early to scoreboard watch.”
Lawrie said he’s been surprised by the development of a young Oakland team, particularly the ability to do the little things that win games.
“That’s a maturation process that usually takes longer, and that’s why we have to narrow that focus,’’ he said. “When you have young guys – anybody, I don’t want to say just young guys — it’s easy to get distracted and forget why you’re in position you’re in.”
Diaz just wants to pitch
American League All-Star manager A.J. Hinch wasn’t ready to reveal his pitching plans for the end of the game, if he has a lead to protect. Among the closers Hinch has to choose from are Craig Kimbrel of the Red Sox, Aroldis Chapman of the Yankees, Treinen and Diaz.
Diaz, who leads the majors with 36 saves, says he doesn’t care when he’s used, just as long as he’s used.
“I don’t care if I pitch in the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth,’’ he said. “I want to just take a shot, see how it feels on the mound in the All-Star Game.
“I want to close, but we’ve got Kimbrel here, all the great closers. I won’t feel bad if they don’t give me the ball in the ninth.”
Haniger called Diaz “our biggest weapon. We give the ball to him, we know the game is over. He’s been great all year. That’s our whole goal, get a lead and get Eddie on the mound, and we know he’s going to shut them out.’’